Troubled cemetery for pets reopens Bonheur manager seeks old records

May 14, 1998|By ERIKA D. PETERMAN | ERIKA D. PETERMAN,SUN STAFF

The embattled Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park pet cemetery has reopened for business, and its manager hopes patrons can help restore it to its past glory.

Bookkeeper and manager Marilyn Phillips said the Elkridge cemetery reopened May 1 and is in the midst of a records reorganization. The facility had been foreclosed on and bought by a new owner after a series of incidents, including undelivered grave markers, doubts about the location of pet remains and pet ashes being delivered to the wrong owners.

Phillips, who would not reveal the owner's name, said the cemetery is in need of deeds and paperwork from old customers so that the records can be re- created and computerized. Phillips has sent hundreds of newsletters to customers, updating them on the legal action against previous owner William A. Green and asking them to bring in documents and help spruce up the grounds.

According to the newsletter, a broken drainage pipe needs fixing, fill dirt and gravel are needed, and a stone fence and several pieces of statuary need repair. The cemetery is planning a "volunteer day" Saturday for customers who want to help.

"It's still better than it was," Phillips said of the cemetery's recent disrepair. "I want to get this place on a solid foundation."

Rosa Bonheur once accommodated humans who wanted to be buried alongside their pets, but the cemetery will not continue that practice. Said Phillips: "We're a pet cemetery."

Though Phillips has been able to identify some plots that the cemetery can safely sell, many of the records remain a puzzle. Sitting in the front office is an unclaimed grave marker for a man named Lyn Eric Norris who died in 1993 but is not buried at Rosa Bonheur.

Edward Dickey Jr., whose remains were shipped to the cemetery from California, was supposed to be buried with a photo of his dogs in one pocket and a dog-shaped key chain in the other. But the sentimental items remain in a brown folder in the front office.

"This was supposed to be in his pocket," Phillips said, studying the mementos. "You should at least honor their last wishes, for goodness sake."

Phillips said Rosa Bonheur has not felt much impact from Meadowridge Memorial Park cemetery, which is across Washington Boulevard and recently publicized its pet burial services.

"I know there is one woman who is going to move her dog over there, and that's her decision," Phillips said.

The Howard County Consumer Affairs office is representing almost 200 people seeking restitution from Green, and Phillips said she has helped several customers file claims. The agency is seeking between $35,000 and $40,000 on behalf of people who paid for perpetual care and $80,000 to $90,000 for those who paid for other goods and services, said administrator Steve Hannan.

Though the cemetery is trying to overcome its past, the memories are too much for some former customers.

"There's no way I'd ever buy there again," said Elizabeth Kirk of Baltimore, who has 30 cats and dogs buried at Rosa Bonheur.

Joyce Williams, who buried her dog, Lexie, and cats, Sheila and Midnight, at the Elkridge cemetery, said the repairs and grounds- keeping should be the new owner's responsibility and not that of customers.

"I want to see it back like it was before Green got in there and messed everything up," said Williams, who lives near Towson.

Phillips sympathizes.

"I understand where they're coming from," Phillips said. "I take things very seriously myself."

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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