Pet cemetery's power cut operation in limbo

Health officials find three dead animals thawing in freezer

February 05, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The troubled Rosa Bonheur pet cemetery in Elkridge has been left adrift -- with no one taking care of the property and dead pets thawing in a freezer without electric power.

In the wake of an unsuccessful effort by the cemetery's owner to give the property back to a bank -- which the bank has not accepted -- it remains unclear who is in charge of the 22,000-plot site off U.S. 1 near Route 176.

The cemetery's caretaker quit Friday. And after Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. cut off the power at the cemetery, the Howard County Health Department found two dogs -- a Yorkshire terrier and a white, medium-sized dog -- and a pot-bellied pig thawing in a 6-foot by 4-foot freezer yesterday in the cemetery's "preparing room."

Howard health officials also revealed yesterday that they had found at the rear of the cemetery an unmarked grave that may contain "several animals."

County Sanitarian Justina Taylor said she had dug 18 inches down and found the paw of a "white dog and the hind legs of several others."

Cemetery owner William A. Green of Sykesville attempted last week to give the property to Commercial and Farmers Bank in Ellicott City in what he calls a "friendly foreclosure."

However, that is in limbo because bank officials say they are not eager to take over the cemetery's problems.

"We don't know what we're doing with that property right now," Edgar Gans, attorney for the bank. "We've received several phone calls saying people are interested in purchasing the property."

Green, 45, said last night that he had not been at the cemetery in a month.

"There's an awful lot of goofy people out there, and it's just becoming ridiculous running that cemetery," he said. "I can't operate it any longer. There isn't anybody who can revive that business because it's gotten such bad publicity."

Said John Spain, a former gravedigger at the cemetery: "He's completely thrown in the towel on this place. It's a dead liability."

Last week, a Howard Circuit judge ordered Green to pay about $20,000 to 16 aggrieved pet owners for grave markers never delivered and for giving pet owners ashes from the wrong animals after they brought pets in for cremation.

At a December hearing, Bobbi Jo Pitcock, a former cemetery employee, said that former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's black Labrador, Willie II, was kicked and stomped before its burial.

Howard health officials said they can't remove the dead animals in the cemetery freezer unless there's "an overpowering odor" coming from the building.

The animals had been frozen there since November, former employees say.

The Yorkshire dog belonged to Green, he said last night, but the pig and the white, medium-sized dog belonged to a client who did not pay cemetery bills.

The county Office of Consumer Affairs said it has received almost 80 calls from pet owners concerned about the pet cemetery's future and their dead animals' whereabouts.

"I'm totally distressed to know animals have just been left there to decompose," said Elizabeth Kirk of Baltimore, who said she has 28 pets buried at the cemetery. "It's a very emotional thing that Green has put us all through.

"It's like having your child buried some place and then finding out it's going to hell in a handbasket."

The 61-year-old cemetery is one of the few in the area that allows pet owners to be buried beside their animals. Birds, hamsters, mice, snakes, horses, monkeys, dogs and cats and even a lion and an elephant are buried there.

Yesterday, two notes were taped on the door of the office. They were from consumers, pleading for their grave markers and information on their pets.

"We've called and called and we've come down there many times wondering where the grave stone is for our dog that died back in 1978," said Margaret Reed of Ellicott City, who put up a note.

Karen Volz of Timonium was at the cemetery yesterday after reading a weekend news story. She said she gave Green $300 in November to cremate her dog.

"You take care of an animal for years, and the last thing you do is turn it over to someone you think you can trust," Volz said. "It's a sickening feeling to sit and wonder where are the ashes of my dog."

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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