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Virginia is for (pet) lovers

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In a Feb. 1 Washington Post article, Rachel Weiner reports that Virginia pet owners may soon be allowed to share their eternal rest with beloved pets. A bill placed before the General Assembly this year by State Del. Israel O’Quinn, a young Republican lawmaker, would change the law reserving Virginia cemeteries for only human remains.

The article quotes Tom Rakoczy, a retired police officer who said, "Our dogs are our family. We’re all created by God. And there’s no reason that we cannot be together at our final resting place.”

The idea came from Farris Funeral Service of Abdingdon, a third-generation business and the owners of the plot that Rakoczy hopes will be his – and his dogs’ – final resting place.

“My family’s been in the funeral business since 1918, and we’ve been in the cemetery business since 1984,” said Kelly Farris, co-owner with his brother. They have set aside some land for the “Garden of Loyalty,” with a waiting list of 25.

Why reserve cemetery space for only human remains? Apparently, some humans are averse to the idea of being buried beside an animal. For that reason, O’Quinn emphasized that no animals would be buried next to anyone who does not want them. Any human-pet burials would be in separate but adjacent plots segregated from traditional gravesites.

“Most states are either silent on the issue or they have very specific laws that they don’t allow it,” said Poul Lemasters, a funeral industry lawyer who consults on pet burial.

New York recently allowed human ashes to be buried in pet cemeteries, and it’s legal in New Jersey as well. The article names only one place in the country where a person can be buried whole with his or her pet: Hillcrest Memorial Park in Pennsylvania. A cemetery outside Baltimore, Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, performs pet and human burials, but the pets are buried in separate plots, at their owners’ feet, in a section closed off from traditional burials.

Perhaps soon some Virginia cemeteries can add their names to this short list of open-minded establishments.