Lawmaker: Furry friends deserve dignity

The Golden retriever and the kitten
Under Sen. Gayle Harrell's bill, pet crematoriums would be required to provide information about their services.

All dogs (and cats) may go to heaven, but at least one state Senator wants to make sure their remains are treated with dignity here on Earth.

Sen. Gayle Harrell has filed for the third time a bill to regulate animal crematoriums and to establish rights of pet owners allowing them to sue businesses that don’t follow the guidelines.

Specifically, SB 416 requires animal crematorium businesses to provide information about their services free of charge to veterinarians, pet shops and businesses that advise pet owners on funeral services or regularly refer pet owners for such services.

The information also must be provided to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The information can be in the form of a brochure and must include a detailed explanation of services offered and the costs of those services. Moreover the information must also disclose to the pet owner whether any part of the animal will be removed or sold by the provider before or after cremation.

“There are much bigger bills out there that need to get passed,” Harrell told Florida Politics. “But pets are part of our families. And when you find out something like this, it is devastating.”

Harrell is referring to the experience of a constituent of hers, Laury Sullivan. Sullivan’s cat, Sevilla, was cremated before Sullivan arrived to say her final farewells.

Sevilla’s owners ultimately had the University of Florida Maples Center for Forensic Medicine analyze the ashes they were given. Scientists, though, were unable to determine whether the ashes were those of a cat, and Sevilla’s microchip was not discovered, according to a staff analysis of last year’s bill. Moreover, the owners also were told there was human DNA in Sevilla’s remains.

Harrell’s bill would name the newly created statute Sevilla’s law.

Harrell said she worked with the Agriculture Department to come up with regulations that aren’t too burdensome but also give pet owners rights.

To that end, the bill provides definitions for different cremation services. It defines a communal cremation process as one where the animals are cremated without partitions or separation.

“Individually partitioned cremation” means a cremation process in which one animal at a time is cremated in the incinerator; or more than one animal is cremated in the incinerator at the same time but the animals are separated from others by partitions.

Businesses that fail to provide the written description of services as required by the bill could face $1,001 to $1,500 fines for a first offense and $2,000 to $2,500 for any subsequent violations. Violations are considered unfair and deceptive trade practices, which open businesses to private causes of actions or lawsuits and potential punitive damages.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, animal crematories are facilities containing one or more combustion units, known as cremators, used solely for the cremation of dead animals. The department regulates the crematoriums through rules regarding general air permits. 

Fifty-six percent of Florida households include a pet, according to Census data.

Harrell filed a similar bill for consideration during the 2021 and 2020 Legislative Sessions. And like past years, Harrell said that Rep. David Silvers will work with her on the issue in the House.

A veteran lawmaker first elected to the House in 2000, Harrell said she doesn’t know what the stumbling block is.

“I wish I knew,” she said when asked about the difficulty in passing the measure, adding that no lobbyist or organization has publicly opposed the bill.

“I’m on my own little mission here,” Harrell said.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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