By Angelica Botta, graduate of Anglia Ruskin University – LLB (Hons) Law
Pets are undoubtedly important to many families: they provide companionship and emotional support; they reduce stress levels; they help children’s emotional development. More and more people consider pets as part of the family, and owning a pet helps networking and building a community. The loss of a pet can cause profound grief for the owner, and difficulty and confusion around how to bury pets can cause additional pain.
In Italy, the laws around burying a pet are not straightforward. When a pet dies, they cannot be buried in public soil, yet there are currently only 23 animal cemeteries in the entire country. This represents a serious issue, as the only alternative is to bury your pet in a private garden. Of course, many citizens do not have a private garden. Those living in apartments rarely have one, and rarely can tenants get permission to bury the pet in any shared garden.
In Lombardy, this issue was resolved in 2019 with a new option: bury the pet with the owner in the owner’s grave.
Article 75 of the Testo Unico now states that, on request of the owner or of the relatives of the owner, a pet can be buried in the owner’s grave as long as the pet has been cremated and put in a separate urn.
This provision was also adopted this year in the region of Liguria.
Italy’s constitution, effective as of 1948, is divided into three main parts: Fundamental Principles; Rights and Duties of Citizens; and Organisation of the Republic, followed by the Transitory and Final Provisions. Unlike the UK, Italy has a civil law system based on codes. A Testo Unico is a collection of legal material regarding a single topic, helping to collect all necessary information in a single document.
As a semi-federal country, Italy does not have fully centralised power. The State has sole power over some matters such as defence, internal affairs, and foreign affairs, while regions have power over other matters such as tourism and health. Therefore, regions can pass laws without the consent of the state government so long as they do not override state laws (similar to how states in the USA can pass their own laws on certain topics so long as they do not conflict with federal law).
The idea of being buried along with pets (in this case, dogs) was actually common in some cultures of the Neolithic period, demonstrating early on the emotional, and not only practical, relationship humans have with dogs. Yet Italy’s 2019 proposal was considered controversial. While many people consider the law evidence of the importance of the relationship between people and their pets, some political parties have strongly rejected it. After Lombardy passed this law, the state government contested it as unconstitutional: According to Article 50 of DPR (285/1990), only corpses of human beings can be buried in cemeteries. The government also claimed it a health hazard to bury animals within human cemeteries.
The Court did not agree with the government, and the decision upheld Lombardy’s provision. In response to public health concerns, owners must file a request with the appropriate authority and the pet must be cremated and put in a separate urn.
This result did not satisfy everyone, with people claiming that burying pets in this manner would damage the holiness of cemeteries. However, cemeteries are not all per se religious grounds. Even so, as a sign of respect to the humans in the cemeteries, photos and names of animals cannot be added on the tombstones.
The new law may indeed represent the stronger, ever-evolving relationship between pets and owners. Despite some disagreement with the new law, Liguria’s consequent implementation suggests that the provision will be implemented in more regions.