Senator wants pet in his casket
Proposed legislation would let pets be buried with owners, protect funeral homes from feuding families’ lawsuits and bar hospices from the burial business.
BY STEPHANIE GARRY
TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Jim King’s best friend, a black Labrador retriever named Valentine, was there when he first campaigned for office and there through the deaths of his parents.
So King wants her there when he dies, her ashes ensconced alongside him in his casket.
But in most of Florida’s licensed cemeteries, that’s not allowed — and King wants it changed. As families disperse and traditions evolve, funeral directors say they’re facing a host of new hang-ups, and lawmakers are working this session to adapt funeral industry regulations to the changing times.
Allowing cremated pets to be buried with their owners is just one possibility lawmakers are pondering in the industry called “death care.”
Valentine ”was probably one of the most loving, incredible breathing things that I’ve ever known,” said King, a Jacksonville Republican, adding he’s had many dogs since she died nine years ago. “None captured my spirit and my soul like she did.”
Legislation before the House and Senate would also give more protection to funeral homes from estranged family members who sue over a loved one’s cremation.
And another provision would make it illegal for hospices to enter the funeral business, a combination the bill sponsor called a “gross conflict of interest.”
Notions about death and its memorialization are changing, said Jan Scheff, executive director of the Independent Funeral Directors of Florida. More people, especially baby boomers, are throwing out tradition and demanding individualized services.
One aspect of that trend is allowing more room for pets in the afterlife.
Many licensed cemeteries have bylaws that forbid human and animal co-burials out of a traditional reverence for human remains. To satisfy the increasing demand for pet accompaniment, some of these cemeteries have carved out separate plots for the burial of pets, said Ross McVoy, a lobbyist for the Funeral & Cemetery Alliance of Florida. But, he pointed out, `It’s not the same as being together for eternity.”
At a Senate committee meeting Monday, King proposed an amendment to allow cemeteries to bury urns containing pets’ ashes along with their owners.
”It’s become kind of the Fido and Felix amendment,” King said.
It passed without objection, though McVoy said some families who already have loved ones buried may protest a break of the no-pets promise.