The property drew complaints before Williams owned it. The first complaint on file with the county was made in 2004 for tall grass and weeds, Van Dommelen said.
Williams said he bought the land as an investment and planned to run it as a pet cemetery but acknowledges that he didn't know what he was getting into. Many of the remaining plots have been reserved already, and there's little room left. Williams now plans to install mausoleums around the perimeter of the cemetery, he said.
"I didn't really realize it was as full as it was," Williams said. "I didn't think about that."
Maryland has about six pet cemeteries, said Andrew Mazan, director of Nicodemus Memorial Park, run by the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown. Some human cemeteries also have sections for pets, he said.
State lawmakers' efforts took place after problems at the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Elkridge, which had fallen into disrepair. According to a legislative analysis of the state bills, that cemetery held about 22,000 animals and at least 20 pet owners.
In Silver Spring, the nearly 8-acre Aspin Hill Memorial Park also suffered from neglect. The Montgomery County Humane Society took over the property in 2007, and volunteers have helped spruce up the site, which was full of weeds and debris, said spokeswoman b j Altschul. About 50,000 animals and dozens of humans are buried there, she said.
"It was not easy for us to make improvements and changes," Altschul said. "It was very difficult at first. … With the passage of time and with persistence, the site is definitely looking brighter now."
Pet owners should always ask whether a cemetery has a perpetual care fund to help to maintain grave sites, said Coleen Ellis of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, a national organization of people who provide services such as pet burial, cremation and funerals.
Ellis founded the nation's first stand-alone pet funeral home and now runs the Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, a consulting firm in the Indianapolis area. Many people consider their pets family, she said. Baby boomers whose children have left home think of their pets as kids, she said. Younger people who haven't had children feel the same.
"They're becoming the confidant and the safety and the security, or the child and the best friend," she said. "They fill that role."
Some Maryland lawmakers have tried to tighten controls. In 2006 and 2007, state legislation was introduced to regulate pet cemeteries but did not pass.
While many states have some regulations for pet cemeteries, they're rarely enforced, said Poul Lemasters, the lawyer for Ellis' group.
"There's just not the manpower or the resources for either the local city or the county or municipality or even the state to really follow up with pet cemeteries," he said.
But he said business owners in the pet "death care" industry are increasingly facing liability risks over issues such as pets being buried in the wrong plots, and there's been a push for regulation.
"We are in a society now where people care, a lot of times, more about their pets than they do about the rest of their families," he said.