State lawmaker’s bill would allow pets, people in same grave

OLYMPIA — When Sen. Ken Jacobsen passes from this life to the next, he wants to be buried with his deceased cat, Sam. There’s just one problem: It’s illegal.

So Jacobsen, D-Seattle, who is known for proposing oddball laws, is working on behalf of himself and other pet owners who would like to be interred with their animals.

Jacobsen points out that burial with pets is a long-standing human tradition dating back to the Egyptian pharaohs.

“I’m tired of the nanny state worrying about me and my cat,” he said. “I assume there’s a lot of people out there with pets who understand the connection.”

Jacobsen’s bill would give cemeteries the option of burying owners with their cremated pets as long as a written request is made. The remains could be buried in a grave plot before, during or after their owner’s passing.

An earlier version of the bill didn’t have the cremation requirement, and would have forced cemeteries to allow animals to be interred with their owners, a provision that bothered lawmakers and industry groups alike.

The bill also requires the owner and pet occupy the same plot and that the animal is either a dog or a cat.

Cemetery owners are opposed because they have to take into account the burial customs and traditions of all cultures and religions, some of which forbid burial near animals, said Paul Elvig, former president of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.

Burying animals with their owners could cut into cemetery revenues, argue some industry officials.

“The ultimate insult to a Muslim would be to bury a dog or a cat near or around a burial grounds,” he said.

Jacobsen said nobody in the Legislature is taking his pet-burial bill seriously, which he calls an illustration of why he felt a connection with his deceased cat: “He really was one of my best friends, especially when you get out of this place,” Jacobsen said, referring to the Legislature. “It’s nice to come home and have somebody that likes you.”

Nonetheless, the bill was approved by the Senate’s Government Operations and Elections Committee on Thursday, an early step in turning Jacobsen’s idea into law.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports the idea.

“It seems totally discriminatory and mean to make these pets sit outside the graveyard gates,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, vice president of cruelty investigations for PETA.

Jacobsen said he’s also received a number of encouraging e-mails from pet owners and families of the now-deceased who wanted to be buried with their pets.

The measure is one of a handful of eccentric bills proposed by Jacobsen this session. His other efforts include a sales tax exemption for bars that install breathalyzers and a proposed law that would allow well-behaved dogs into bars, an idea that died in the Legislature in previous years.

“If a constituent comes up to me and asks about something, instead of blowing them off I figure let’s put it on the table and see what the wisdom of the Legislature is,” Jacobsen said.

So far only a few legislators seem willing to support his pet burial bill, though none have signed on in support.

“I think a person should be able to be buried with whatever they want,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. “Some people are buried in their Cadillacs.”

But Roach voted against moving the bill out of committee because it doesn’t require placing the cremated remains in the owner’s casket, which she says is disrespectful to others buried in the cemetery.

She also took issue with a provision allowing animals to be buried alongside their owner after the owner is deceased. Roach said it would be a burden for cemetery owners to exhume grave sites.

Only Florida has an existing law allowing people to be interred with their deceased pets.

“I have pets, my children have pets, I have always had pets,” said Russ Weeks of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association. “I still don’t feel comfortable having my family buried with pets.”

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