by Beverly Amsler

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Walk around any cemetery and you’ll find tombstones bearing the same last name. . . family members buried next to each other.  A new Virginia law will now make it possible for people to be buried beside their pets.

“There’s Peanut and Bootsie and Choppie, Niles, Sassy Mae, Mr. Bojangles, Gypsy, and Princess.”

“People are devoted to their pet, love their pets.  As you can see, we’ve got flowers and memorials, and a couple Easter decorations.”

Don Green is the President of Evergreen Memorial Trust and we’re standing in a corner of MountainView Cemetery in Vinton.

“We see people coming to visit and pay their respects and remember their pets in this section just as we do in the rest of the cemetery.”

Separated by shrubs, this area is for pets only.  But a new law will allow cemetery owners to designate some of the land for humans and their pets to be buried side by side.

Tom Rakoczy and his wife lived and worked in Ohio.  When they retired, they moved to Abingdon, Virginia-not for the rural landscape, quiet surroundings, or mountains, but because they could be buried in a plot next to their 11 dogs.

“For my wife and I, our dogs, they’re our family.  Loved ones could come with two legs or four legs.  And our dogs, for the last 40 years of our marriage have been our family.  We have no human children.”

He knows about 10 other families that want to do the same and with the new law, they’ll be able to do just that.  Virginia will join Pennsylvania and New York as the only states that currently allow humans and their pets to be buried in adjoining plots.  On July 1st, Virginia will join that list.

Kelly Farris of Farris Funeral Service of Abingdon, spearheaded the legislative effort.  A few years ago, he and his family set aside some land for a future “Garden of Loyalty”.

“I think that we’re just progressive and we thought of something with the help of our clients, basically.  To me it was a commonsense thing to do.”

Currently, 90 percent of Farris’ clients choose cremation for their pets compared to just 23 percent for humans.

“But with this new garden and the new law, those statistics might change.”

That’s because the new law allows the entire body of the pet to be buried, not the cremains.

To be in compliance with the new law, the pet-human section must be segregated from the rest of the cemetery.

“We’re going to require-just like for humans-they’re going to have to be in an outer burial container, because we got to maintain the appearance of the graves forever.  There are pet caskets.  There’s companies out there that we use that have caskets designed for different sizes of-primarily it’s cats and dogs that we’re working with.”

However, Ferris says there are still some unanswered questions about the new law.  For instance, will the bodies of several pets be allowed in one grave? And a young person might have several pets throughout their lifetime.  Ferris says in that case, they should buy a plot for themselves and another for their pets or. . .

“In that scenario, I would probably encourage, maybe cremation because you can take the urn home with you.”

While Kelly Ferris has spent years designing the Garden of Loyalty, Don Wilson with MountainView Cemetery in Vinton has no plans to create a pet-human section because he doesn’t have enough land.  But he says if there’s a lot of interest, he may reconsider.

New Law Allows People and Pets to Be Buried Side by Side