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Is It Legal To Bury My Pet in the Backyard?

By: Tracy Hall

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When a pet passes away, many owners find comfort in burying their beloved friend nearby. A home burial in the backyard or other nearby location ensures that the site can be easily visited and tended to. When coping with the loss of a pet, few owners think about whether their actions might be against the law. Surprisingly, many regions do have regulations that limit or even forbid using your yard as a pet's final resting place.

Why would it be illegal to bury a pet in your yard?

Such regulations are generally created because of health and environmental concerns. Laws might regulate how deep the grave must be and what materials can be buried with the pet. Deeper graves protect humans and other animals from disease, since they are further from the surface and less likely to be unearthed. Using only approved materials for your pet's burial means a lower risk of soil and water contamination from degrading metals and plastics. In an environmental context, home burials can affect the purity and safety of water supplies. When any organic material breaks down, it can deposit nutrients into nearby soil and water. Any diseases that the animal had might also be transferred. When animals are buried too close to local reservoirs, lakes or other sources of water, it increases the risk of water contamination.

The first major legal hurdle in a home burial is determining whether the property in question belongs to the pet owner. If the owner rents the property, there is often little chance that a home burial would be allowed without the property owner's permission. Some renters may feel comfortable asking their landlord for consent, especially if they are long-term tenants. If the property owner denies permission and the renter proceeds with the burial anyway, it can mean eviction or even legal repercussions.

The Law

Once you have sorted out the property ownership issue, it's time to move on to the law books. Laws on pet burials are often vague and vary between regions. When considering a home burial, check on local restrictions as they are rarely the same between locales. Your county's Board of Health or Animal Control agency is a good place to start looking for information. Many laws do not make a distinction between a small pet such as a dog or cat and larger animals such as cows and horses. For example, municipal code in Los Angeles, California states "no person shall bury an animal or fowl in the City except in an established cemetery."

It is noteworthy, however, that many owners and even officials admit these restrictions are followed infrequently at best. In fact, these types of regulations might receive so little attention that officials themselves might not know the extent of the law. Although the laws might be on the books they are rarely enforced, especially in sparsely populated areas.

Home Burial – What to Do

It is important for those who have decided on home burial to respect and abide by all restrictions.

Depending on your locale, the rules vary. To determine home burial laws in your area, call your city or county health department. This department seems to govern most of the animal disposal regulations. As an alternative source of information, your local mayor's office might be able to advise you as to which department to contact. The animal control office might also know. In our research, we have found that the best starting place is to search online for municipal codes in your city.

In addition, experts recommend treating the burial site as you would any other excavation project. Call ahead to ensure that there are no gas, electric or water lines in the area that may be damaged by the digging.

Other Options

In light of these and other concerns, home burials are not always an option. Instead, some pet lovers choose to explore other methods to safely and legally handle the pet's remains. Your veterinarian can provide you with information on methods such as cremation or burial in a designated pet cemetery.

The loss of a pet can be a heartbreaking experience. Researching local pet burial laws is probably one of the last things on your mind. The fact that the laws are often vague and rarely enforced can further complicate the issue. Whether you bury your pet at home or select a non-burial option, a memorial to a beloved animal friend can help grieving owners heal and move on.
        

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