For pet owners and lovers, it used to be til death do us part.
Now it’s longer.
At Vale Cemetery, the board of directors recently decided to allow pets to be buried with their owners.
“It used to be that you couldn’t put animal remains in a human cemetery,” said Dr. Bernard McEvoy. He and his wife Barbara help to run Vale Cemetery and are pet lovers themselves.
When New York State passed a law last year allowing people to be buried with their pets, it came with the stipulation that it was up to each cemetery to adopt the practice or not.
Vale is one of the first in the area to do so.
There are plenty of odd questions that pop up with this allowance: Does your pet have to die before you?
Can someone be buried with a pet as large as a horse?
“If someone wants to be buried with an elephant I just don’t know,” joked McEvoy, who is president of Vale Cemetery Preservation, Inc.
Usually, people ask to be buried with their cats, dogs and maybe a parakeet.
That’s all fine at Vale.
The pet cremains will be sealed in an urn and can be nestled right inside the casket with the deceased or buried beside the casket. According to McEvoy, if someone dies before the pet that they’d like to be buried with, Vale will bury the pet in the same plot once the pet does die. If the pet dies before the owner, the cremated pet can be buried directly with the owner.
“Some people say that pets really are a part of the family now,” McEvoy said.
Spending on the rise
This law does seem to follow a national trend of people putting their pets first: paying more attention and more money for their care. In 2016 alone, Americans spent a total of $62.75 billion on their pets, a study by the American Pet Products Association reported. That’s up exponentially from 1994 when people spent about $17 billion. It’s also up from 2015 data, which revealed that Americans spent $60.28 billion on their pets.
That’s a lot of dough. And local pet lovers can now spend a little more ($150) to be buried with their pets at Vale.
The cemetery will maintain the record of the pet (the birthday and date of death, as well as the breed) and 10 percent of the fee goes toward maintenance. Owners can also memorialize their pets with flat stone markers, not to exceed 14 by 18 inches. Vale can provide these for an additional $180.
For some people, it may even mean relocating to be buried with their pets. According to a National Public Radio story, one Ohio couple, the Rakoczys, moved to Virginia just so they could be buried in a plot next to their 11 dogs.
"For my wife and I — our dogs, they're our family," said Tom Rakoczy.
Plenty of room
According to Robert Coan, the president of Vale’s board of directors, those who would like to be buried with their pets must tell the funeral director or their executor to make arrangements for it.
There are 33,000 plots, with room for more, according to McEvoy.
Some of those plots are already animal-friendly, though the animals stay above ground.
“Vale is unique in that we have green burial [sites],” McEvoy said.
Some 189 sites are considered “green burial” spaces, which means that no chemicals were used in the burial process, no pesticides are used to maintain the plots and the property is not maintained by John Deere lawn mowers (or any other brand of mower for that matter).
“We bring in sheep and goats to take care of the lawn,” McEvoy said.
They’ll chomp away at the tall grass, weeds and just about anything else.
Although there are no animals currently buried at Vale (at least not on record), there just may be a surge in the coming years. According to some local funeral directors, there haven’t been very many requests from people quite yet.
“We anticipated more requests for it, but it’s been over a year since anyone has brought it up,” David Parente, director of McVeigh Funeral Home, said.
However, one funeral director has already made plans for one client who would like to be buried with a dog who recently died.
“I think it’s meaningful for some people ... it does bring some degree of comfort,” said Maria Scott Barbieri of Scott and Barbieri Family Funeral Homes. For Scott Barbieri, this is a reminder for people to get their burial affairs in order early on in life. Otherwise, loved ones might not know that Fido (or Oliver, Nemo, etc.) should be buried with the deceased.