A bill to allow cemeteries to designate certain areas where pets can be buried alongside their owners gained a renewed focus in the past week, bringing in a fresh round of concern over the bill right before the session resumes from summer recess on the 14th.
Assembly Bill 528, authored by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), would specifically authorize a public or private cemetery to designate a separate, clearly marked section of the cemetery where deceased pets could be buried with their deceased owners. The bill would require, if the cemetery designated such a space, that the pet and human remains be in separate remains containers, but authorizes them to be placed in the same plot, niche, crypt, or vault. In addition, AB 528 would require, if the cemetery designated such a space, the cemetery authority to develop and adopt rules and regulations for human and pet coburials.
Implementing AB 528 is estimated to cost the state $472,000 in the first year and $456,000 for each subsequent year. If passed, California would become only the fifth state in the nation to allow the practice, joining New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Assemblywoman Irwin wrote the bill because of the growing demand for burials with pets due to the close bonds between the two. She also further stressed that opposition up until now has been minimal, with AB 528 being passed unanimously through different committees so far.
“For the majority of Californians who own pets, our furry friends are more than just friends –they are family,” Irwin said earlier this year. “On average, humans spend over a decade of their lives with their pets, building strong and irreplaceable bonds. As such, it is natural for owners to want to keep their furry members close in the afterlife to celebrate and honor the joy they brought to them.”
“Given the lack of opposition and the fact that it has passed unanimously up to this point I have to think that chances are good this bill will make it to the governor’s desk. Through this bill, both public and private cemeteries will be given the option to decide for themselves whether or not they allow pet and human co-burials.”
Support has been strong for the bill throughout the year. The bill passed the Assembly 79-0 in May, with the latest committee, the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, voting in favor of it 10-0 just last month.
One of the main bill supporters, Social Compassion in Legislation, stressed last month that “As an organization that works to protect and save animals, we understand the bond that Californians make with their pet over the span of its life. Nearly 16 million Californians own a pet, integrating their furry family members into their daily activities. A 2017 NPR opinion piece acknowledged that co-burials were not uncommon in various cultures throughout human history. With co-burial allowing pet owners to properly express their love and connection with their pets, while keeping their furry family members by their side in the afterlife.”
However, AB 528 may be facing a rocky final stretch in the Senate. In the past week, an uptick of stories on the bill have highlighted how unsure many in the cemetery business in California are over allowing pets in certain areas of cemeteries. While neither Governor Gavin Newsom nor individual Senators have weighed in on the subject publicly, such concerns could lead to more questioning in the Senate later this month.
“It’s not that we aren’t completely opposed to this, it’s just that we need to see the feasibility of this bill first,” Eric Smalls, a cemetery co-owner, told the Globe. “For example, cemeteries either don’t allow pets to come at all, or only allow them on leashes and never off the path. If we have pet burials here, that means more people will bring pets to funerals and to visit graves. They can leave messes and do very disrespectful things to graves. We’ve had to order people out before when their dog peed on a gravestone. Having a new section would be a handful to say the least. And if we banned them, owners would get angry at us.”
“There’s also religious aspects to consider, as some religions don’t allow animals to be buried near them, even in another plot. In a state as diverse as California, that can also be a hassle.”
“You’ll find that cemetery owners like myself are, again, not opposed to the bill. But we need some time on this to figure out accommodations and how to maintain respect for the dead while also respecting these new burials.”
AB 528 is currently set to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee next in the coming weeks.
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