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Healthy Dog Euthanized For Burial With Guardian

The law allows it, but few are comfortable with it
By Karen B. London PhD, May 2019, Updated June 2021

A healthy Shih-Tzu much like this one was euthanized for burial

A Virginia woman requested that her dog be euthanized, cremated and buried with her when she died. At the time of her death, her dog—a Shih-Tzu named Emma—was perfectly healthy and well, creating a clash between moral and legal issues.

When a representative of the woman’s estate came to the shelter where Emma was being held, the staff there tried to persuade him not to euthanize her. They tried to encourage him to sign over any rights to her and allow her to be adopted by someone else. However, he refused and chose to follow the instructions in the deceased woman’s will. Emma was taken to a local veterinarian and euthanized.

It is not illegal in Virginia to euthanize a healthy dog because they are considered property, but not all veterinarians would agree to do it. It is, however, against the law of that state to bury a non-human animal or any animal remains in commercial cemeteries. Exceptions exist for certain private and family-owned cemeteries, and that may have allowed this woman to be laid to rest with her dog as she desired.

Though there were no laws broken when this woman’s wishes to have her dog euthanized upon her death were carried out, many people were outraged. To be allowed to kill a perfectly healthy animal just for burial does not sit right with many people, including me. If someone wants a dog’s remains to be with them after death, it would be great if a system could be set up for the dog’s ashes to be added to the site later, when the pet dies on its own. Or, I would encourage people to take a more symbolic approach and request to be buried with a lock of their dog’s fur or a cherished photo of the dog instead.

What is your take on this situation?

photo by Manel/Flickr

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life