NBC4 I-Team

Why One Woman is Fighting for New California Legislation After Her Dog's Cremation

In California, unlike in other states, there are no regulations on the pet cremation industry. Hillarie Levy is fighting to change that.

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Losing a beloved animal is traumatic, but imagine having your pet cremated and questioning if you received the correct ashes. One woman has been struggling with this for nearly three years. And after initially sharing her story with the I-Team, she’s now taking action to help other pet owners. 

Losing a pet is never easy. When Hillarie Levy’s beloved dog Wesley died, it was really tough. What made it even worse — she suspected his cremated remains weren’t his.

“I immediately went back to the vet and said, ‘No, this is not Wesley,’” said Levy.

There’s a reason why Levy thought that. Her dog Winnie, a 26-pound cocker spaniel, died a year earlier, and her ashes weigh six-and-a-half ounces. But Wesley’s ashes, a 12-pound miniature pinscher, weighed eight. 

For both dogs, Levy paid for a private cremation, meaning they were supposed to be cremated individually, not with other animals. Levy didn’t understand how Wesley’s ashes could have weighed more than a dog’s twice his size. 

“They had given me the wrong ashes,” said Levy.

After the I-Team interviewed Levy, she sued the crematory for negligence. A judge first tossed the case, but Levy appealed, and a second judge ruled the case could move forward. Jill Ryther, Levy’s attorney, says it’s a sign the courts are finally viewing pets as family members. 

“Basically the decision said when you’re in the business of selling sentiments around animals, when people are hiring you because they believe you view the animals similar to the way you view the animal, such as a family member, you can’t turn around and say, ‘Oh well, they’re just property under the law and therefore there’s no liability,’” said Ryther. 

The crematory agreed to settle the case; those details are confidential. But this win is giving Levy the boost to keep pushing forward. 

“Consumers need to be protected against this type of activity.” she said.

Some states, like Illinois and Arizona, regulate the pet cremation industry. But California doesn’t - there’s no oversight board, no required record keeping or protocols. Levy wants to change that. She and her lawyers are working to propose legislation that would require all pet crematories to be licensed by the California Veterinary Medical Board. And they want facilities to prove private cremations are happening, through a tagging process and cameras. 

“I think mirroring what crematories do with humans is exactly what we should be doing,” said Ryther. 

Passing legislation will likely be a tough road. But Levy’s determined, so other pet owners don’t have to go through what she did. 

“This is so important for my well being, as well as everyone else’s well being who chooses to cremate their pets,” she said. 

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