Pet cemetery industry reform sought Rosa Bonheur situation sparks push for legislation

February 07, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The director of a national pet funeral directors association intends to go to Annapolis next week to lobby state legislators to include pet cemeteries in seven bills aimed at reforming the state's human cemetery and funeral industry -- because of the troubles at Elkridge's Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Elkridge.

Robin Lauver, president of the National Association of Pet Funeral Directors in Mechanicsburg, Pa., says the criminal and civil complaints against the cemetery's owner -- William A. Green of Sykesville -- show the need for regulation of pet cemeteries.

"One of the reasons this is all happening is because there are no rules over pet cemeteries," said Lauver, who said he has received several complaints about Green from Maryland pet owners. "Because of that, fly-by-nighters like Green are using this to try to make a lot of money and that leaves poor pet owners being exploited in unbelievable ways, where they have no idea what's happening to their pets."

Maryland is one of 45 states that has no laws governing pet cemetery owners.

Lauver said legislation he supports would require licensing of pet funeral directors and put a limit on the costs of burying or cremating an animal.

Sen. Martin G. Madden, who represents Howard and Prince George's counties and is introducing legislation next week that would require licensing and regulation of the cemetery business, said he may consider sponsoring a bill in the future for pet cemetery funeral directors. But he said he is more interested in problems at human cemeteries for now.

"It's going to be hard enough to get this one for regulations on human cemeteries through this time," he said. "We have a real human tragedy that many people have faced in burying loved ones."

Six other human-cemetery bills -- four in the House and three in the Senate -- await legislative action. They include bills that would set up trust funds, training requirements for funeral directors and establishing a watchdog agency.

But some pet lovers say that isn't enough.

"I'm very disappointed to not see more bills to bring pet cemeteries under control, especially the way Mr. Green's mistreated so many people all over the state," said David Williams of Baltimore, who has pets buried at Green's cemetery. "It's preposterous that legislators are ignoring the fact that so many pet owners are being hurt by the mistreat of their animals when they die.

His wife, Joyce added: "It's not just humans that are being buried wrong."

Meanwhile, one of the pets found thawing in Rosa Bonheur's freezer Tuesday -- after the site's electricity had been cut off -- has been identified by its owner, Cindy Boyce of Baltimore.

"I looked at that poor animal and realized right away it was Teisha," said Boyce, who paid Green $3,000 to bury her dog. "To think of my poor animal just sitting in that freezer.

"I thought this dog was buried and laid to rest, but instead it has been frozen for two months," she said. "I just can't believe one person would do that to my dog."

It remains unclear who is in charge of the 22,000-plot site off U.S. 1 near Route 176 because Green is trying to give it back to his bank, but the bank hasn't yet accepted it. The cemetery's caretaker quit last Friday.

The Howard County Health Department then found two dogs -- a Yorkshire terrier and a white, medium-sized dog -- and a black, pot-bellied pig thawing in a 6-foot by 4-foot freezer at the cemetery.

Green on Wednesday moved the carcasses of Boyce's dog and the pig to the Howard County Animal Shelter, authorities say. Officials at the animal shelter yesterday were attempting to identify the owner of the black pig. It was brought to the cemetery in November to be buried; a label on the animal reads "Athanos."

Green did not return messages left at his home yesterday. In an interview Tuesday night, he said that he had "stuck with the business long enough."

"I don't think anybody understands how difficult this has been for me," he said. "I never turned anyone away because they didn't have any money.

"I've stuck it out all these years," he said. "Now all I care about is getting somebody in there to run that cemetery."

Rosa Bonheur, a 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.

A Howard County Circuit judge last week ordered Green to pay about $20,000 to aggrieved pet owners for grave markers he never delivered and for giving pet owners ashes from the wrong cremated animals. Howard health officials also revealed Tuesday that they had found at the rear of the cemetery an unmarked grave that may contain "several animals."

Green said he told employees to dispose of the animals bodies, after pleading guilty a year ago to charges of illegally operating a crematorium at Rosa Bonheur.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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