I recently had occasion to do some research regarding the legal status of pet cemeteries in Idaho. Unlike in some States, it appears there are no laws specifically regarding the creation or maintenance of pet cemeteries here. The question then arises: what is someone buying if someone buys a plot at a pet cemetery? The answer appears to be that he or she is not buying as much as he or she might think or hope.
If someone buys a plot in a pet cemetery, the implications are that, as with a human cemetery, the purchaser will be able to visit the plot of land, which will be maintained by the cemetery owner in perpetuity. The problem, however, is that if those implications are never reduced to writing as part of the purchase of the plot, they are probably not enforceable, especially if the pet cemetery is sold to a new buyer.
Take for example a situation where a person buys a pet cemetery plot and, twenty years later, the land is sold to a new owner who decides to close the pet cemetery. Unless the purchaser has written proof that they were granted some sort of long-term legal right of access to the property, the purchaser likely has no way to compel the new owner to respect the purchasers desire to continue visiting the burial site. The purchaser might have some sort of claim against the former property owner, but that claim will be of little consolation to the bereaved. At best, the plot “owner” could recover money from the prior owner under a breach of contract theory or under some other law, such as the Idaho Consumer Protection Act.
The real problem here is that animals are historically treated as personal property by the law and, therefore, are no different than shoes, cell phones, and coffee mugs. Although most people recognize that the bond between a pet and its owner is different than the bond between a person and his or her other “property,” the law has been slow to make that connection. (Actually, now that I write this, I realize that some people have bonds with their shoes, cell phones, or coffee mugs that might compare to the bond other people have with their pets, but I digress.) Perhaps it is time for the Idaho Legislature to take a look at implementing laws regarding pet cemeteries, but frankly it feels as though they have bigger issues to face this legislative session.
So the moral of the story: if you or someone you know is contemplating purchasing a pet burial site, be very careful about getting in writing exactly what your expectations are for your long-term right of access to and maintenance of that property. But even with such a writing, begin to emotionally prepare for the idea that someday you might not be able to visit your pet anymore.