Meng defends dog owner in cemetery fight

Ed Martin stands at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory, where he is director. AP Photo/Senth Wenig
By Connor Adams Sheets

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) plans to introduce a bill to ensure all dogs can go to heaven alongside their owners.

The legislation, which is being drafted, comes in response to a bizarre case out of Hartsdale, N.Y., in which the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory told a man’s sister earlier this year that the state Division of Cemeteries had passed down a ruling barring his ashes from being buried there next to his wife and two beloved pooches.

Thomas Ryan died in April. Since he bought a plot in the cemetery in 1990, he had planned to be cremated and buried there on a plot shared with the ashes of his beloved wife Bunny — who was buried there in 2008 — and their two Malteses, BJ I and BJ II, along with a third dog which survived him.

But his ashes are still above ground at his sister’s home because the division declared the longstanding practice of some pet owners to be buried with their pets in their own lots at private cemeteries illegal in February under laws governing not-for-profits, Meng said.

The division, however, does not have jurisdiction over not-for-profits, and therefore cannot legally rule as such, Meng argued Saturday in a letter asking the division’s director, Richard Fishman, to “reconsider this ruling.”

The division, which plans to meet this week to discuss the issue, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ryan’s niece, attorney Taylor York of Pennyan, N.Y., has taken on the cause of imploring the division to overturn the ruling, which she says does not have the authority to enforce when it comes to private burial grounds.

“My uncle and his wife couldn’t have children. They had dogs instead that they absolutely adored, and like any pet owner they loved their animals like children,” York said. “My uncle had every intention of being buried next to his wife and his four-footed family.”

She has not been able to make any headway despite writing a letter of her own to the division, to which she says she never received a response.

Meng has taken up the cause, and she plans to introduce a bill soon that would make it clear that the division does not have the authority to monitor private cemeteries’ activities.

“It’s a private cemetery, it’s not a not-for-profit, so I don’t know why it should fall under their jurisdiction,” Meng said. “A lot of people, especially the elderly, feel very close to their pets and they may not have any relatives who are close to them, so they want to be buried with their pets. So this ruling is a sad inconsistency.”

York said the issue is more than just a personal concern, and that it comes down to a need to protect people’s rights to dispose of their remains as well as private businesses’ rights, and to ensure neither is infringed upon by a body that has no legislative authority. If the issue is not resolved to her satisfaction, York said she will take the division to court.

“What worries me is this is not just about pet owners in Hartsdale, this is about what New Yorkers can do with their remains after they’re dead,” she said. “You are free to scatter your ashes, bury your ashes, so long as you have the property owner’s consent and certainly if it’s your own property. Don’t take our choice away.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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