When Emma the Shih Tzu's owner died, Emma died too. The healthy dog was euthanized because her late owner had left instructions for the dog to be put down and laid to rest next to her when she died, WWBT reports.
Emma's owner was found deceased in her Richmond, Virginia home on March 8, Chesterfield County Police Department PIO Elizabeth Caroon told CBS via email. After she died, her dog was taken to the Chesterfield County Animal Shelter, where she stayed for about two weeks.
"On March 22, the executor of the owner's estate came to the shelter to get the dog," Caroon told CBS News. "Shelter staff offered to have the executor sign the dog over to the shelter so the dog could be adopted out. The executor declined and took the dog."
The police department could not confirm what happened to Emma after she left the animal shelter, but WWBT reports that her owner's wish was fulfilled — Emma was put down.
The dog was reportedly brought to a local vet and euthanized. Her remains were then taken to a pet cremation center and the ashes were returned to an authorized representative of the estate. This was in accordance with her dead owner's will, WWBT reports.
"This is kind of a failure on a couple parties' parts," Amanda Howell, staff attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told CBS News. "First, there's the person who is deceased, the owner." Howell said it's not uncommon for pet owners to make arrangements for their animals in their wills, but the proper thing to do is to create a pet trust — not to euthanize them.
Howell said the executor and veterinarian who carried out the request to euthanize the dog are also blame. Howell said the executor should have asked a judge for guidance, instead of blindly following what was written in the dog owner's will. "Usually judges refuse to enforce these provisions [in wills], even in states that have not passed laws banning them," she said.
A judge likely would have ruled to have the dog put up for adoption. "This is an example of a completely needless killing of a healthy dog. Emma could still be around, living a happy life, bonding with a family," Howell said. "Moving away from treating animals like property is a really big step for ensuring these types of provisions in wills are not enforced."
"[Pets] are individuals, they're not your CD collection," Howell said.
While euthanizing a healthy dog is one ethical issue, burying a dog in a human cemetery is another one. Emma's owner requested this happen, but it is illegal to bury pets in commercial cemeteries, according to the Virginia cemetery code.
It is unclear which vet euthanized the healthy dog, or if Emma has already been buried with her owner, who was not identified. CBS News has reached out to the shelter for comment and is awaiting response.