Allowing pets, owners to be buried together? Bill doesn't fly in Louisiana Senate committee _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- V.M. Wheeler, right, and his veterinarian, Brian Melius, both of Metairie, are interviewed after testifying for legislation that would allow pets to be buried with their owners. The bill was deferred by a Louisiana Senate committee on Tuesday.

V.M. Wheeler ran into his veterinarian, Brian Melius, at breakfast one morning in Metairie. They talked of Wheeler’s desire to be buried with his two Cavalier King Charles spaniels.

Lots of people do it, Melius said. He and his wife had put the cremated remains of his parents’ dogs in their coffins. But, he added, it’s not exactly legal. Louisiana law only addresses the burial of humans.

“It was a total surprise to me,” said Wheeler, a lawyer who is single and views his two big-eyed, floppy-eared dogs as his immediate family.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, whose wife also had slipped the cremated remains of pet dachshunds into the casket of her mother, pushed Senate Bill 166 on Tuesday. He said the measure would clarify the law and clearly allow the burial of pets with their owners. The burials would have to be arranged in advance and in writing. Internment would take place in a special section of the cemetery, specifically for owners and their pets.

But Louisiana cemetery owners opposed the legislation, and the members of Senate Judiciary A Committee agreed with them — voting without objection to defer the measure, which Appel said pretty much ends consideration for this legislative session.

Gerald Melancon, a funeral director from Carencro, said he and other owners aren’t against the concept. But Appel’s SB166, as written, would create problems for them. “There are a lot of issues in here that need to be clarified,” Melancon said, waving a copy of the measure.

For instance, the legislation would require cemeteries to keep records on the name and species of the pet. But the software used to keep up with the human interred doesn’t include any place for that information. Then there’s the issue of how to handle a spouse who wants to be buried with a pet but also next to their deceased spouse who already is buried in a section of the cemetery where pets are not allowed.

“It’s going to mess up everything,” Melancon said. “We’ll be back here next year to fix this law.”

Melancon also is the chairman of the Louisiana Cemetery Board, which regulates burial grounds. The board took no position on the measure.

Appel said the cemeteries wouldn’t be required to allow pets to be buried with people. “It’s totally optional,” he said.

Appel said he would work with Melancon and bring a revised version of the legislation back next year.

New York and New Jersey allow cremated human remains to be buried with a pet but only in a pet cemetery. Pennsylvania allows cemeteries to have three sections: one for humans, one for pets and an area for both. Virginia passed a law in 2014 permitting cemeteries to have clearly marked sections where pets and humans may be buried alongside one another.

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