Unburied pets in legal limbo Cemetery: People who own plots in a well-known Howard County pet graveyard want the new owner to let them bury their pets.

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

For three weeks Boots has been lying in limbo in a veterinarian's freezer while her distraught owner fights for a cemetery plot to bury her beloved dog.

Elaine Smith bought the plot -- her fourth, actually -- at Elkridge's well-known Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park three years ago. But now she can't bury her 15-year-old black and brown mutt.

The troubled cemetery was sold two weeks ago and the new owner hasn't disclosed plans for the eight-acre, 22,000-plot property, home to the deceased pets of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Blaze Starr, the stripper.

Pet owners across Maryland are worried -- and, in some cases, angry.

"I'm at the end of my rope. I don't know what to do," said Smith, 47, of Baltimore, who paid $135 for Boots' plot. "I'm at the point where I am going to go out and dig the grave myself. If this man wants to have me locked up, so be it."

Lee Edwards bought the land from Commercial & Farmers Bank in Ellicott City after the previous owner, William A. Green, defaulted on the mortgage. Edwards said he initially bought the land off U.S. 1 to develop the back two acres, where there are no graves.

He will only say that it is "a possibility" that the cemetery will be open and operating. Right now, he is consulting with his attorneys and plans to talk with the county's Office of Consumer Affairs. Then he will issue a press release, he said yesterday.

Stephen Hannan, administrator of Howard County's Office of Consumer Affairs, said his agency is concerned about what may happen to the cemetery. There are many unanswered questions right now, he said, noting that some humans also are buried there.

"We would like the cemetery to continue operating. It was a money-making business before," Hannan said. "It would be nice if it were able to continue."

Several people have pre-paid lots at the cemetery and they say they'll fight for the right to bury their animals there.

"If this guy thinks he can just flip a switch and turn [the cemetery] off, he's nuts," said Paul Willis, a management analyst for the federal government, who has four cats buried at the cemetery and paid $1,650 for 11 plots for his current pets. "I guarantee you I will see to it that [Willis' ailing 9-year-old miniature Doberman] is buried properly."

But the pet owners may have little to say in the matter. Bank officials say Edwards bought only the land and not the business, raising doubts about his obligation to honor any of the claims.

"The land and the business are two different entities," said Edward McKee, vice president of Commercial & Farmers bank.

If Edwards decides against operating the cemetery, claims would likely be directed at the cemetery's former owner, Green, who was convicted in May of charges he gave pet owners the wrong ashes from their cremated pets. In February, after the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs sued him, Green was also ordered to pay at least $20,000 to pet owners who never received costly grave markers or received wrong ashes.

Green said yesterday that he has no idea how many pre-paid plots there are. If people seek reimbursement, he said, he would not have the money to pay them because he is not collecting any money from the business. Some of the plots were sold before he bought the cemetery, he said.

"I don't see [Edwards] and his partners going in there and operating it as a pet cemetery," said Green, who has met with Edwards. There are also concerns about who would be responsible for maintaining the cemetery, if indeed Edwards decides to close it. Mark Feinroth, the state's new director of cemetery oversight, said he believes Edwards will have some responsibility for maintaining the site.

Meanwhile, Boots lies in a freezer, unable to be buried in the cemetery next to her mother, Pee Wee, and two other Smith pets, Fluffy and Tiny.

And other pet owners are scrambling to find out what is going on. Ronald Daniels tried desperately to track down his dog's plot at the cemetery last week. His terrier mix, Sandy, underwent hip surgery and he thought she might not make it. She survived.

"I can't get no information [about the cemetery] at all," he said.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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