Pet cemetery ex-employee tells of abuse Gov. Schaefer's dog stomped by workers before burial, she says

Allegation called 'absurd'

Civil, criminal charges placed against owner of the graveyard

December 24, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The problems at an Elkridge pet cemetery extended beyond mixed-up ashes and undelivered grave markers, a former employee said yesterday: Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's black Labrador was kicked and stomped on before its burial.

Bobbi Jo Pitcock, who worked for Rosa Bonheur Memorial pet cemetery owner William Anthony Green, said the 7-year-old dog, Willie II, was taken from the freezer and bashed by cemetery employees before he was put in a casket for burial.

They said, " 'This is for you, Schaefer,' " said Pitcock, Green's former office manager, after a hearing in a civil suit yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court. "Green just took out a rag and wiped the footprints off and put him in a casket."

Schaefer is not among the 16 Maryland residents on whose behalf the county filed a civil lawsuit against Green. The pet owners allege he gave them the wrong ashes or never delivered grave markers for which they paid hundreds of dollars.

Contacted at his home yesterday, Schaefer said he was saddened by the alleged treatment of the dog, which was featured alongside him in his official portrait. The dog died of cancer early this year.

"Willie II was a great dog," he said. "In my wildest imagination, I can't imagine kicking. He was a big dog, but gentle, really. He lives on in the State House."

Green denied that he or his employees had treated the dog badly.

Lainy LeBow-Sachs, Schaefer's former public relations director, said Schaefer and the dog were partners.

Willie "was this big, fat dog," LeBow-Sachs said. "The governor fed him everything. They loved to eat together. A little for the governor, a little for Willie."

The Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs and the Police Department filed the civil and criminal charges against Green in October, accusing him of deceptive trade practices and theft.

They conducted a four-month investigation into the 61-year-old cemetery, which holds more than 22,000 graves for cats, dogs, birds, an elephant -- even humans who could not bear to be buried without their pets.

L The civil case seeks more than $20,000 in fines and damages.

Green also faces three counts of theft -- two of which carry possible sentences of 15 years in prison. No trial date has been set in the criminal case.

Judge James B. Dudley is expected to make a ruling in the civil case before the end of the year.

Lynn Gregg, a senior investigator with the Office of Consumer Affairs, said he has received 40 more complaints since the initial lawsuit was filed.

Neither Green nor his attorney appeared at yesterday's hearing.

In a telephone interview yesterday afternoon, Green said he did not know about the hearing and denied the charges concerning Schaefer's dog.

"I have never done anything like that or allowed anyone to do anything like that," Green said. "That is absurd."

Six people testified yesterday that Green gave them ashes from pets that were not their own.

Cremations cost from $150 to $500 depending on the weight of the animal, Pitcock said.

A detective who investigated the case testified that some animals were taken to Heavenly Days crematorium in Rockville to be cremated, but that Green's check bounced.

The crematorium refused to release the ashes until payment was made in full, he said.

Pitcock, who worked for Green about five months, testified that Green ordered her to scoop up ashes from pets that had been cremated at the cemetery, place them in urns and give them to the customers.

"He told me to take a handful depending on the weight of the animal," Pitcock said. "I didn't think it was right, but I didn't want to lose my job or my place to live."

In the fall of 1995, the county's Office of Consumer Affairs received many complaints about grave markers -- some of which cost as much as $500 -- that had been ordered but never delivered.

When Gregg investigated, he found that Green had placed orders for some of the markers, but the companies refused to do business with him because of bounced checks and unpaid bills, the detective testified.

Green had told customers that problems with employees and with the grave marker companies were causing delays, Gregg )) said.

After police began investigating the cemetery last spring, Pitcock testified, Green came to the garage apartment where she lived and offered her $200 to go to Florida.

"He said, 'We got to get our stories straight,' and I was no good at lying," Pitcock said. "He wanted me to go to Florida so I wouldn't talk to the police."

After hours of testimony about the hundreds of dollars pet owners spent on memorials for their pets, money did not seem to be their main concern.

One customer who paid Green more than $400 but never received a marker asked Dudley if she could up put a headstone herself. The judge said he did not know.

"She just wants a marker on that plot," said Senior Assistant County Solicitor Louis P. Ruzzi. "That's the bottom line. That's how desperate these people are to see some kind of tribute to their animals."

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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