Bank takes ownership of pet cemetery Institution held mortgage, outbids animal welfare group

No comment on plans

Defaulted property sold at auction for $200,000

March 19, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

An Ellicott City bank became the unlikely owner of Elkridge's pet cemetery yesterday after outbidding an animal welfare group -- a move causing fear among pet owners concerned about the fate of their beloved buried animals.

Commercial & Farmer's Bank, which held the outstanding mortgage on the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park, won the right to the title to the 22,000-plot cemetery with a bid of $200,000 at an auction in front of the building housing Howard County's Circuit Courts.

Bank officials, who had been holding the mortgage on the property since owner William A. Green defaulted, said earlier that they did not want to run the famed cemetery -- home to the dogs owned by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Blaze Starr.

But yesterday, they refused to comment about their apparent change of mind or what they planned to do with the cemetery, which is near the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 176.

The bank's action appeared to set a minimum selling price for the property and gave the bank the right to clear title. The former owner owed $276,0000 on the property.

Elizabeth Kirk, president of Baltimore's Animal Welfare League, came to the auction with a check for $47,000. But she was outbid by the bank.

"I would have thought they [the bank] would be glad to get rid of it once and for all," said Kirk.r "We'll keep on trying."

Kirk said she would have gone as high as $150,000, but that would have been "pushing it."

The agency's money comes mostly from donations and occasional bequests. Some of the money to make the cemetery purchase came from $40,000 left to the group by a former member two months ago, Kirk said.

The outcome of the auction surprised many of the approximately 20 pet owners who attended, stirring their concern and criticism.

"At the age of 69, my experience with banks is that they are in the money business and that's their primary concern," said David Williams, a Baltimore resident who has three pets buried at the cemetery. 'What if someone walks in and says, 'I'll give you $400,000 for it.'? Do you think [the bank] will turn them down just because it is a pet cemetery? I doubt it."

The sale of the cemetery to the bank prompted a man who had decided against bidding on the site to consider trying to buy the cemetery from the bank.

Robert Fischbach, owner of Beltway Glass and Mirror in Baltimore, said he backed out when he heard that the animal welfare league wanted to buy it. He said bank officials told him they were going to let the place go for just about any price just to get it off their hands, and he thought the animal group would be perfect to run the site.

Fischbach, who has seven pets buried there, said he worries a developer may buy it.

"There's no way I am going to let what I call 'the kids' out there" go unprotected, Fischbach said yesterday, referring to the animals buried at the cemetery.

The bank, he said, is more worried "about the almighty buck than what should be done with the graves out there."

The cemetery became the center of controversy last fall when Howard officials filed criminal and civil charges against Green, the former owner, alleging that he never delivered costly grave markers and gave pet owners the wrong ashes for cremated animals.

At a hearing in Howard Circuit Court, a former employee of Green said that Schaefer's dog, Willie II, had been kicked and stomped on by employees before it was buried.

In January, a local judge awarded 16 disgruntled pet owners more than $20,000 in a suit brought on their behalf by the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs.

Green is awaiting trial on criminal theft charges related to the same case. Trial is scheduled May 8.

Green, a past president of the Ellicott City Rotary Club, has been involved in several other real estate ventures, which have left more than 50 creditors seeking about a half-million dollars.

After the bank foreclosed in January, Green abandoned the site and the power was cut off, leaving the bodies of two dogs and a pot-bellied pig thawing in the cemetery's freezer.

Yesterday, Williams said the one positive aspect of the sale is that the animal welfare league will now likely be allowed to take care of the cemetery until it is sold.

The bank and the league ran into problems when Green refused to sign a consent form letting the league oversee the cemetery until the auction was held, Williams said.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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