Cemetery sued over pet burials Suit claims breach of free funeral pact

September 12, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Elizabeth Kirk has buried 23 of her dogs and cats at the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in the past 26 years. She and her husband even have plots for their burials there, the oldest pet cemetery in the country.

Now, Ms. Kirk contends that because of the business she has brought to the cemetery it's fair for the owner of the Elkridge cemetery to live up to an agreement written in 1992 to provide her with burial arrangements for seven other pets at no cost.

Ms. Kirk, president of the Animal Welfare League of Greater Baltimore, has filed suit in Howard Circuit Court seeking to have the agreement enforced. She also is asking the court to award her $25,000 in damages, according to the suit filed Sept. 2.

Ms. Kirk, 50, of Baltimore said she has had to have two of her dogs cremated -- their ashes are in urns kept at her home -- since the agreement with the cemetery operators fell through in April. "It's been very, very upsetting to me," said Ms. Kirk of the 3000 block of Iona Terrace. "Losing the animals alone is a trauma to me. And not to be able to bury them where they belong is even worse.

"I didn't want to do this," she said, referring to the suit. "But this is just very important to me."

Ms. Kirk has asked for a jury trial for her suit. The case has been assigned to Judge Dennis Sweeney. No proceedings have been scheduled.

The suit names the cemetery and its owner, William Green, as defendants.

Mr. Green contends that Ms. Kirk made the agreement with Bonheur's former manager a month before he quit his job. Mr. Green said the manager had no authority to make such an agreement to cover services that would have cost nearly $4,000.

"She knew this guy couldn't do that, but she decided to do it anyway," Mr. Green said. "She's not an innocent victim."

About 22,000 animals and about 300 people are buried at Bonheur's 12-acre site in the 7200 block of Washington Blvd. The pet cemetery, one of three in the Baltimore area and the only one where people also can be buried, has operated since 1935 and is named for a 19th century painter and sculptor known for her portraits of animals.

Ms. Kirk, who has a degree in counseling and has worked for the welfare league for 26 years, calls animals her "kind of thing." She now has six dogs and cats.

She started taking her pets to the memorial park in 1967, when a fire in her home killed three of them.

In 1990, Ms. Kirk ordered seven arrangements -- including seven grave markers identical to the ones she had used for other pets -- to be used for the next seven of her pets to die, the suit states.

Ms. Kirk says in the suit that she made an agreement in June 1992 that she would not have to pay for the seven arrangements because of the volume of business she has brought to the cemetery.

She also referred many pet owners to the cemetery and provided the memorial park with many services, the suit states.

Ms. Kirk said that she sent mailings about the memorial park to the welfare league's 800 members, provided counseling to bereaved pet owners and was guest speaker at the cemetery on Pet Memorial Day.

When her 13-year-old mixed terrier, Little Girl, died in April, Ms. Kirk had a funeral at Bonheur and requested that the service be the first of the seven arrangements covered by her agreement, the suit says.

But Mr. Green would not honor the agreement and charged Ms. Kirk $524 for the funeral, the suit says.

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