A deceased pet owner’s wish to have her dog euthanized so that they could be laid to rest together in Virginia has sparked backlash.
After Anita Cullop-Thompson, 67, passed away, she requested in her will that her dog Emma, a healthy Shih Tzu mix, be interred with her, Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service owner Larry Spiaggi told NBC News.
“She was devoted to her four-legged friends, Mandy (deceased), Miranda (deceased), and Miss Emma,” her obituary reads.
The dog was taken to the Chesterfield County Animal Shelter after her owner was found dead in her home on March 8, according to Elizabeth Caroon, public information coordinator for the Chesterfield County Police Department. She stayed there until the executor collected her on March 22.
“Shelter staff offered to have the executor sign the dog over to the shelter so the dog could be adopted out,” Caroon said. “The executor declined and took the dog.”
Emma was then taken to a local veterinarian, euthanized and taken to a pet cremation center, WWBT reported.
“It is a heartbreaking situation. While we don’t know the specifics of this case, as a general matter, we don’t support the euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals when other alternatives exist, such as rehoming of the pet,” said Amy Nichols, vice president of companion animals for the Humane Society of the United States.
Because animals are considered property in Virginia, however, requesting your pet be euthanized upon your death is not illegal, according to Matthew Liebman, director of litigation at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
“As long as you’re not violating cruelty law, you have a right to treat your property however you want,” he said.
But, Liebman also noted that at least four cases on the same issue have been taken before a judge. The courts have declined to enforce such will provisions.
If the shelter had refused to give Emma back, the executor of the will could’ve sued them, Liebman explained. If the case went to court, a judge could’ve possibly saved the dog from euthanasia.
In general, pets can’t be “interred in the same grave, crypt, or niche as the remains of a human,” and if a cemetery does bury pets it must be in a clearly marked, segregated section, according to Virginia state law.
Emma’s ashes were placed in an urn and returned to the representative of the woman’s estate, WWBT reported.
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