|Disposal of Unclaimed Animal Remains|
Member Question: A client’s pet was euthanized several months ago, and they have not yet picked up the remains. What are the obligations for holding onto unclaimed animal remains, and how should they be disposed of? Do the remains need to be declared abandoned, and how would the client notification procedures apply?
NYSVMS Legal Counsel: The Agriculture and Markets Law provisions on “abandoned animals” apply only to a live animal, so these provisions do not apply to a dead animal, its remains or cremains.
The provisions in the pet cemetery law only apply to the method of disposal of the animal, and focus on ensuring that a dead animal or animal that will be euthanized is disposed of in accordance with the wishes of the owner. It does not have any terms for return of the animal remains or cremains to the owner who does not pick up the animal’s remains.
However, the remains/cremains of an animal are still the property of the owner, so a veterinary hospital should not simply dispose of them without appropriate notice to the owner and an opportunity for the owner to reclaim them – even if that opportunity has previously been offered to the owner.
My recommendation would be for the hospital to send a certified letter (formatted for notification in the abandoned animal sections of the Agriculture and Markets Law) to the owner, notifying him/her that the remains/cremains of the animal:
• are still at the veterinary hospital;
• have not been claimed, despite notification from the veterinary hospital;
• must be claimed by the owner in the next 20 days (time period for reclamation in the abandoned animal law);
• if not claimed, the remains will be disposed of by the hospital. The notification should list the intended method of disposal by the hospital to ensure compliance with the pet cemetery law; the manner of disposal should be the manner of disposal used by the hospital for any unclaimed animal.
If there is no response from the owner and the hospital disposes of the animal, I would caution against charging the owner for this disposal, which technically has not been authorized by the owner.
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