Rhona Levy, a real estate management secretary living in the Bronx, has already decided upon her final resting place. Like many, she wants to be buried in a cemetery with her loved ones. Her loved ones just happen to be her four cats and one dog.
Levy, 65, never thought she would be able to be buried in a pet cemetery but a new regulation enacted by the New York Department of State officially permits pet cemeteries to inter the cremated remains, or "cremains," of pet owners along with their pets.
"A sizable segment of the New York community articulated a desire to be able to have their cremains buried with their pet remains," stated the formal "notice of adoption" published in the official New York State register Wednesday. "No evidence suggests that permitting this practice will harm cemeteries for human remains."
Under the regulation, effective August 2, pet cemeteries can accept human cremains for burial but cannot charge a separate fee for those remains or advertise their human-remains burial services. The state set those rules to make it clear pet cemeteries were not engaging in "the operation of a cemetery for human remains."
New York is one of a handful of states that has made formal regulations regarding human remains in pet cemeteries.
"Most states have not addressed this specifically. It's very much a state of flux right now," said Poul Lemasters, an attorney and funeral director based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lemasters also is a consultant for the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association and the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance.
Virginia currently is proposing a similar regulation allowing pet cemeteries to be added to existing human cemeteries. Additionally, Pennsylvania is one of few states that allow human bodies to be buried on pet cemeteries without having to be cremated, according to Lemasters.
The effort to formally allow human remains to be buried in New York pet cemeteries began in 2011 after NYPD officer Thomas Ryan wanted to be buried with his deceased dogs in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in upstate Hartsdale, New York. The pet cemetery, established in 1896, had been allowing human-remains interment for decades.
"Our records indicate it was being done since early 1920s," Ed Martin Jr., the cemetery's director, said of the practice. "We were doing it all along. A couple of years ago, the New York [state] Division of Cemeteries asked us to cease the procedure to take a closer look."
Eventually the state decided in favor of people who wanted to rest eternally with their mascots.
And it was the growing demand of owners wanting to be buried with their pets that sparked government attention, said Lemasters.
"It's been going on for so many years and no one has ever said anything," said Lemasters. "It's going to happen, so why not allow it to happen and regulate it. It's just a matter of time before states start regulating this more and more."
The decision covers all pet cemeteries in New York state.
Once Levy found out about the new regulation, her mind was made up.
"My decision was set in stone right then, that I knew I would be cremated and I would be buried with my pets, my babies," she said.
For decades, Levy enjoyed their company. Her dog, Snow, and three of her cats, Putchke, Pumpkin, and Twinkie are all buried at Hartsdale.
She and another cat, Shaina, will join them one day.
"They're my children, they're my babies, I love them," she said. "When they live with you, when you raise them, they're your family."