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State OKs burial of owners with pets

Life is good again -- and death is looking better -- for animal lovers in New York who want to be buried with their Persians, Pomeranians or potbellied pigs.

The state Division of Cemeteries has issued regulations that once again permit pet owners to have their ashes interred with their beloved animals in pet cemeteries.

"My wish has been granted, and I will be able to be with my furry family forever," said Rhona Levy of the Bronx, who has planned for years to have her ashes buried with her dog and four cats in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in the New York City suburbs.

"This was one of the best moments of my life," she added.

Under the new rules, approved last week in Albany, the interment of human ashes at pet cemeteries is permitted under certain conditions.

The pet cemetery must not advertise that it takes human ashes and may not charge a fee for doing so. The cemetery also must tell customers who ask about human interment that they would be giving up some protections, such as mandatory record-keeping and restrictions on removal.

The 115-year-old Hartsdale cemetery has been adding human ashes to pet plots since 1925, and an estimated 700 people have joined the 70,000 animals there. But on Feb. 8, the Cemeteries Division ordered a halt to the practice. Three days earlier, Hartsdale, 20 miles north of Manhattan, had been featured in an Associated Press story about the increase in human burials in pet cemeteries around the country.

The ban was issued statewide in April. The state said then that only not-for-profit corporations can take in human remains, even if cremated, and charging a fee violated not-for-profit law.

The state's declaration angered some animal lovers, especially those who had prearranged their burials at pet cemeteries.

Hartsdale asked the state for permission to at least accommodate those who had prepaid.

Taylor York, an attorney and law professor at Keuka College in Penn Yan, went further. She undertook to convince the Cemeteries Division that because pet cemeteries are private, they are not covered by nonprofit corporation law.

York's uncle, Thomas Ryan, had died in April. He had arranged -- and prepaid -- to join his wife and their two dogs, B.J. I and B.J. II, at Hartsdale. But the state ruling prevented that, and Ryan's ashes remained in a wooden box at the home of his sister, York's mother.

The Cemeteries Division's new ruling means Ryan can finally be buried, and York said a ceremony is scheduled for Friday.

"This new compromise gets my mother what she wants and my uncle what he intended," she said. "It's a Christmas gift of a kind, but this was agonizing and it's a real shame that the state leapt before they looked."

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