As It Happens

Funeral home director speaks out after woman had dog put down and laid to rest with her

A  Virginia funeral home director says he was distraught to learn that one of his clients arranged to have her perfectly healthy dog euthanized so its remains could be laid to rest alongside her own. 

Virginia woman reportedly arranged to have perfectly healthy shih tzu Emma euthanized and cremated

This stock photo shows a Shih Tzu mix. A dog of the same breed was recently euthanized in Virginia so it could be laid to rest with its owner. (PhotogenicPanda/Shutterstock)
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A  Virginia funeral home director says he was distraught to learn that one of his clients arranged to have her perfectly healthy dog euthanized so its remains could be laid to rest alongside her own. 

WWBT-TV in Richmond reports that a shih tzu mix named Emma was euthanized and cremated after her owner died, despite the pleas of a local animal shelter to let them find her a new home. 

Larry Spiaggi, president of the Virginia Funeral Directors Association, says he doesn't approve of the practice, but it's out of his hands.

The woman has already been cremated and her ashes given to the executor of her estate. The dog was put down and cremated elsewhere, Spiaggi said, and he didn't learn about it until after the fact. 

Spiaggi — the proud owner of two chocolate Labradors — spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the controversial practice of being laid to rest with one's pets. Here is part of their conversation. 

Larry, what did you think when you heard that Emma, this perfectly healthy shih tzu mix, had been put down by the wishes of the owner?

It's pretty upsetting. You know, I'm an animal lover, and to put a healthy dog down for no good reason, it's difficult to handle.

Larry Spiaggi, right, president of the Virginia Funeral Directors Association, his wife Sue Danielson, and their dogs Peace and Hope. (Submitted by Larry Spiaggi)

Have you had the same experiences? Has anyone ever asked you to cremate their dogs or to have their healthy, living dogs put down and buried with the owners?

We have had that in the past. About 20-plus years ago, I had a lady that was a friend of mine that had pre-planned her funeral and she told me that that's what she was going to do.

When she did pass away, you know, we were involved in going to the house to get her and I met the dog at that time. And this was a little rat terrier, about, you know, eight pounds. And he was very, very possessive of her.

Even prior to her death, [neither] her grandkids nor her children could even touch the dog. The dog wouldn't let anybody touch it except for for this lady.

As I left the house, I knew they were going to have this dog put down, and I was still in distress about it. But I also thought about what life that dog was going to have without her being there. 

You're in this quandary. Was that the right thing or was it not? In that situation, you just have to deal with what the family decides to do.

Peace and Hope are certified therapy dogs who provide comfort to grieving clients at Larry Spiaggi's funeral home. (Submitted by Larry Spiaggi)

This woman was cremated at your funeral home, the woman who owned Emma. ... Did you know that that was her wishes, that she wanted the dog to die with her?

No, we didn't put the two and two together. We have been contacted about the story just as an expert, as a funeral director, about our opinion ... and we never even knew the lady's name in the news article until today.

We found out about it this morning. Another reporter gave us the person's name and when I was talking to my staff and bringing them up to date ... they told me that we had handled that service and that she was cremated by us.

We gave the cremated remains to the ... gentleman handling the estate, and they evidently had this dog being cremated parallel. But we weren't involved and we didn't know anything about it.

Why do you think people do that? Why do you think that in their wishes before they die, they ask that their pets or dogs be be put down and buried with them? If you love your pet, you think you'd want the pet to be OK. 

That's what I would think, you know. But I also think, well, some people think that the dog or the animal won't be taken care of and loved the way [they] do it. 

It's kind of sad, when you think of it.

I think it is sort of sad. And I'll tell you this. My wife and I, we don't have children, so our dogs are our surrogates.

We have a trust set up that will take care of those dogs after we die.

We have a pretty large piece of property and our property will stay the way it is for the dogs until they pass away, and then will be sold.

So that's an extreme too. I think people would look at me as being sort of a little nuts about that.

Now that this woman, she's been cremated and the dog's been cremated, but can they actually be buried together as her wishes are?

The state of Virginia says no. If it's a for-profit cemetery, the pet cannot be interred in the same grave space, niche or mausoleum crypt as a human being.

Now, if it's a private cemetery ... they can do what they wish to do.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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