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Pet owners happy with new rule allowing - again - burying human ashes with beloved animals

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HARTSDALE, N.Y. - 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 at the 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 Thursday 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 cemetery division ordered a halt to the practice. Three days earlier, Hartsdale, 20 miles (30 kilometres) 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.

"Suddenly I'm not at peace anymore," Levy said at the time.

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 persuade the Cemetery Division that since pet cemeteries are private, they're not covered by non-profit 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 Cemetery 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 leaped before they looked."

Just as the Hartsdale cemetery was the first to be told it couldn't accommodate humans, it's the first to get permission to resume the practice. The state and the cemetery signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" that permits the immediate burial of human ashes at Hartsdale. The cemetery resumed human interments Friday.

Ed Martin Jr., president and director of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, said Monday he has no qualms about the restrictions. He said the cemetery dropped the $235 fee it used to charge to open an animal's grave for its owner's ashes.

"It's not that it was a big moneymaker. It was a courtesy more than anything else," he said.

York said she took some satisfaction that during the meeting last week, Cemetery Board Chairman Dan Shapiro acknowledged using private property as a cemetery himself.

"I spread my uncle's ashes under a peach tree in my backyard," Shapiro said.

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