Pets and their owners often share special bonds, but for one woman in Virginia, that bond was meant to continue after death.
According to NBC affiliate WWBT, a healthy Shih Tzu mix named Emma was recently euthanized after her deceased owner left explicit instructions in her will for the pet to be cremated and buried with her.
Emma arrived at a local animal shelter in Chesterfield County on March 8, after her owner died and stayed for about two weeks before the executor of the dead woman's estate arrived and asked to euthanize the healthy pup.
According to shelter personnel, staff tried to dissuade him from euthanizing the dog, but Emma was eventually transported to a local veterinarian and euthanized.
"We did suggest they could sign the dog over on numerous occasions, because it’s a dog we could easily find a home for and re-home,” Carrie Jones, the manager of Chesterfield Animal Services, told WWBT. “Ultimately, they came back in on March 22 and redeemed the dog.”
Emma's remains were then taken to a pet cremation center in Richmond, where her ashes were put in an urn to be buried with the dead woman.
While the ethical nature of euthanizing pets to be buried with owners remains unsettled, the law is clearer, Virginia Funeral Directors Association President Larry Spiaggi said.
"It’s not legal to put a dog’s cremated remains — or any animal — in a casket and bury them," Spiaggi told WWBT.
While Virginia code forbids pets to be buried with humans in commercial cemeteries, there are exceptions for cemeteries that are private and family owned.
Spiaggi said he is a pet-friendly funeral director and would never put down an animal to bury it with an owner. Many veterinarians said they also oppose the choice, saying they won't do it.
Dr. Kenny Lucas of the Shady Grove Animal Clinic told WWBT his ethical guidelines would lead him not to euthanize a healthy pet.
“Whenever we’re faced with a euthanasia situation, it’s a very emotional situation — and beyond everything we talk about — that we need to do ethically, and we’ve taken an oath to do,” he said to WWBT. “Also, it’s something we take home, too. It weighs on us as professionals.”