Troubled pet cemetery to have neighboring rival Competition surfaces near Rosa Bonheur

March 15, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse for the troubled Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park pet cemetery in Elkridge, a new problem has arrived right across the street.


Noah's Garden of Pets, on the property of the sprawling Meadowridge Memorial Park cemetery on Washington Boulevard, is planning to make a splash with its facility, currently being touted in newspaper ads illustrated with animals boarding an ark. Meadowridge plans a summer rededication ceremony and is running burial plot specials "to aid the pet community at this time."

The gesture seems a clear response to the well-publicized problems at Rosa Bonheur, which include foreclosure, pet owners being given the wrong ashes after their animals' cremation, undelivered grave markers and doubts about where some pets are buried.

Meadowridge has had a pet section since 1980 but never promoted it, said Charlene Elliott, general manager of the cemetery. The ad is designed to make people aware that they have another burial option in the area, she said.

"They [Bonheur] offered a valuable service," Elliott said. "We just wanted to continue that service and make the public aware that that service is available at Memorial."

Currently in the midst of a huge records reorganization, staff at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park say the cemetery could reopen for business in May. But some customers speculate that Noah's Garden of Pets could present a threat to its neighbor.

"If these people don't get someone in there who knows what they're doing, it's going to take second place to Meadowridge, if that," said Joyce Williams, a Towson resident who buried her dog, Lexie, and her cats, Sheila and Midnight, at Rosa Bonheur.

But Marilyn Phillips, who is reorganizing the records at Rosa Bonheur, said she does not see Meadowridge's venture as a threat.

"Competition is a good thing," Phillips said. "I don't perceive it as bad competition at all."

Pet owners say Meadowridge's animal cemetery always has dwelled largely in the shadow of Rosa Bonheur, a facility so pet-lover friendly that people could opt to be buried beside their animals. Most of Meadowridge, a neatly kept expanse of green, is reserved for humans.

The pet section at Meadowridge remains unmarked. The only indications are the small gravestones with odes to Penny the dog, "Our Little Girl," Twinkie the dog, "Our Best Friend," and Doody the cat, a "Loyal Friend," whose burial marker shows a sleeping feline nestled under a blanket.

At Bonheur, flowers, statues, pinwheels and candles adorn granite headstones. About 22,000 animals are buried there, including an elephant.

In Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park's heyday, "Meadowridge couldn't wipe Bonheur's boots," Williams said. "It was like night and day."

Then things started to go wrong. First, a group of pet owners sued the cemetery's previous owner, William A. Green, for delivering the wrong pet ashes to customers and failing to deliver grave markers. Green has been ordered to pay more than $85,000 to about 180 pet owners. At one point last year, no one was taking care of the property and the electricity was cut off with dead pets in a freezer.

Some pet owners aren't sure where their animals are buried. Phillips said she is reconstructing cemetery records to find out where those pets are buried and which plots are reserved so they aren't resold.

"It's our intent to have it fully as good as it used to be," Phillips said.

Phillips said the cemetery also hopes to bring back its practice of holding pet burial services.

"That meant a lot to people," she said. "Most of the pet cemeteries do not do that."

Noah's Garden of Pets is raising its profile. Elliott said the facility may erect a small ark on the property. The cemetery is offering customers the option of buying three standard-sized pet spaces at $49 each. After March 31, a standard plot will cost $295, Elliott said.

She said 364 animals are buried at Meadowridge, with room for about 700 more.

"We can always expand," Elliott said.

Elizabeth Kirk of Baltimore, who has 30 cats and dogs buried at Rosa Bonheur, said she doesn't blame Meadowridge for capitalizing on the situation across the street.

"I would, too, if I were in their shoes," she said.

Kirk said she could never trust Rosa Bonheur again. Not while the ashes of her three dogs -- Bagel, Pooh and Sammy Jean -- sit in cans at her home with the burial plots she purchased in dispute.

"I would never buy there again," Kirk said. "I just wouldn't feel safe being there."

Robin Lauver, president of the National Association of Pet Funeral Directors in Mechanicsburg, Pa., said mishaps such as the ones at Rosa Bonheur are not uncommon at pet cemeteries, which he said are suffering from a lack of regulation and widespread ethical lapses.

"This industry is in bad shape," said Lauver, who also operates a pet cemetery in Mechanicsburg. "What you saw at Rosa Bonheur is happening all over the country. We're trying to push for legislation nationwide on pet cemeteries because right now there's absolutely none."

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