tampabay.com

A love that rewrites the law

A senator wanted his dog's ashes to be buried with him, so he acted.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published May 1, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Jim King of Jacksonville wants to be buried with the ashes of his beloved black Labrador, Valentine.

"Through some very hard times, she was with me, " King says. "She was more human being than dog."

But state law apparently doesn't permit pet remains to be buried with human ones, no matter how humanlike the pet. The law on cemetery companies refers only to "human remains."

So King is out of luck, right? Not necessarily.

King happens to be Sen. Jim King, a longtime lawmaker and former Senate president. That means he has lots of clout.

And the advantage of being a powerful lawmaker is that you can try to change the laws and policies you don't like. Sometimes that means overhauling property insurance or rewriting education policy.

But sometimes, the matter is far less weighty. And often, the impetus is a very personal experience.

Like Labradors and pet ashes.

When King heard about a cemetery regulation bill proposed this session by Tampa Sen. Victor Crist, King mentioned to a friend and cemetery operator that he plans to be buried with the ash-filled urn of Valentine.

Valentine was a gift from King's wife on Valentine's Day. King immediately fell in love, and he carried Valentine everywhere. She even stood in medians campaigning for him, with a sign around her neck that urged, "Vote for my Daddy."

After Valentine died a decade ago at age 14, King changed his will to ensure her ashes would rest with him inside his coffin.

So imagine King's dismay when the cemetery operator friend told him there's nothing in state law allowing pet remains to be buried with human ones. You and Valentine, the friend told King, cannot spend eternity together.

To which King replied: "Well, maybe this is one of the good reasons I'm a lawmaker. We can fix this."

King tacked onto Sen. Crist's bill an amendment that specifically authorizes the "internment or entombment" of human remains with the urn of a cremated animal - as long as the human and animal remains are not mixed together. King got Rep. Will Weatherford to put the same provision in a companion House bill.

The House passed the bill Monday, and the Senate is expected to do the same today.

If the governor signs the bill, it becomes law.

And just like that, Valentine and King can rest in peace together.

"Some people may say it's not good or it's frivolous, " King conceded. "But you do what you do and you hope it works."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.