Is it Legal to Bury My Pet in My Backyard?

The Realities you Should Consider Before Burying a Pet on your Property

People burying pet
Is it legal to bury your beloved pet in your backyard or some other property you own?. Photo © Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Most people are familiar with the time-honored "funeral flush" used to dispose of a child's dead goldfish via the toilet, but what laws govern the removal or disposal of larger pets? This article explores the legal realities you should consider following the death of your beloved dog, cat, bird, snake, gerbil, hamster or any other furry, finned or feathered non-human companion, and whether it's legal to bury a dead pet in your backyard or on some other property you legally own.

Rising Regulation
The inexorable growth of human population over time -- whether in existing or newly developed areas -- inevitably results in the need for more rules and regulations governing the increasing complexity of the actions and social interactions of the people living in any given community. For example, while you or your parents might fondly recall shooting off fireworks in your front yard on July 4th, or trick-or-treating in the dark on Halloween night, many local communities now dictate if/when/how these activities may legally occur for various reasons.

The same is true concerning the action of burying a dead pet in your backyard or on any property you legally own. For many reasons, including your personal safety, the well-being of others, environmental and other concerns, many local and/or state governments now regulate if/when/how you can bury the remains of your beloved pet in your backyard or on any property you legally own.

In other words, do not assume that burying the body of your beloved pet in your backyard or on some other property you own is legal.

Laws Vary Significantly
The laws and regulations governing the removal or disposal of your pet, and whether it's legal to bury a dead pet in your backyard or some other property you legally own, can differ by state, county or municipality.

Therefore, before attempting a pet burial on land you legally own, you should fully research and understand all laws pertinent to your property.

The laws governing the disposal of dead animals in the state of Washington, for example, not only specify what constitutes a "dead animal" (fish and other primarily aquatic animals are not included), but also dictates how quickly the pet's owner, or the owner of the property on which the dead animal is found, must "properly dispose" of the corpse (within 72 hours).

This Washington-state law also mandates not only the approved methods owners can use for a dead pet's/livestock's final bodily disposition (such as landfilling, incineration, composting, rendering, burial or some other approved form) but, in the case of burial, specifies how/where residents may legally bury their animals. Among other requirements, a minimum of 91.44 centimeters (3 feet) of soil, covering "every part" of the animal, is required, and the burial spot must be more than 30.48 meters (100 feet) "from any well, spring, stream or other surface waters."

In Michigan, however, residents generally must dispose of dead pets/animals "not intended for human food" far more quickly (within 24 hours), but may legally bury animals at the less-backbreaking depth of (at least) 60.96 centimeters (2 feet) under the ground's "natural surface." Among other requirements, Michigan law also stipulates that residents must separate individual animal gravesites by a minimum of 76.2 centimeters (2.5 feet).

Missouri's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which regulates the disposal of dead pets, livestock and other animals, considers these remains "solid waste" and views on-site burial as the least-desirable option due to the risk of water pollution. Those who insist on burying a pet on their property might still encounter difficulties complying with state law, however, because the Missouri DNR also requires the following, among other things, for such burial sites:

• at least 15.24 meters (50 feet) from property lines

• at least 91.44 meters (300 feet) from an existing neighboring residence

• at least 91.44 meters (300 feet) from any wells, surface-water intake structures, public drinking water-supply lakes, springs or sinkholes

The point of these examples is merely to illustrate the significant variance among the laws and regulations governing the burial of a dead pet or animal on private property these days. Again, before attempting a pet burial in your backyard or land you legally own, you should fully research and understand all laws pertinent to your property.

The Bottom Line
If you've experienced the death of your beloved pet -- whether that of your dog, cat, bird, snake, gerbil, hamster or any other furry, finned or feathered non-human companion -- and wonder if you can legally bury it in your backyard or on some other property you legally own, the reality is that you might find it difficult to comply with the laws governing pet burial in your state, county or municipality. While nothing will likely prevent you at the time from burying your deceased pet on your private property, all it can take is one complaint from a neighbor to local authorities to trigger monetary fines and/or imprisonment for violating your local law, so you might want to consider other options, such as burial in a pet cemetery, cremating your pet or creating a pet memorial on your property.

Additional Reading:
10 Ways to Memorialize Your Deceased Pet
Inspiring Quotes About Pets
10 Unique Ways to Handle Cremated Remains
Pet-loss Support Groups

Sources:
"WAC 246-203-121 -- Disposal of dead animals." Washington State Legislature. Retrieved May 11, 2015. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=246-203-121

"Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development -- Animal Industry." www.michigan.gov. Retrieved May 12, 2015. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/MDA_Proper_Disposal_of_Animal_Carcasses_in_Michigan_33673_7.pdf

"Dead Animal Disposal Laws in Missouri" by Charles D. Fulhage. University of Missouri Extension. Retrieved May 13, 2015. http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=WQ216

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