- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Shoe boxes, footlockers and fiberglass caskets holding the remains of turtles, dogs even a pony will be disinterred from a property north of Richmond to make room for commercial development.

A New York-based company intends to build a hotel and restaurants over the Evergreen Pet Cemetery on Route 1 in Hanover County, Va. And it has every right to proceed.

Helen T. White, who established the cemetery in the 1960s when she began burying her show dogs on family property, didn't leave records and obtained no licenses to operate.

Similar pet cemeteries existed around the state until the General Assembly enacted regulations in 1996. Evergreen Pet Cemetery, site of as many as 800 graves packed onto one-third of an acre, closed in 1995 after Mrs. White's death.

The land has switched hands several times and current owner C&G; Associates LLC is working out a deal to sell off the property to a developer, according to Ed Gelletly, a real estate broker whose job is to track the pet owners and work out new arrangements.

"We understand that [the pet owners] weren't treated very fairly," said Mr. Gelletly, who is not identifying the company. "We want to be as responsible and responsive as we can."

Steve Drown, executive director of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries, said this scenario is "not awfully common," but he cited similar cases recently in Florida and the Midwest.

"I certainly don't like the idea, but there's not much we can do as citizens," he said.

"I'm not too happy about it," said Esther Carpenter of Richmond, one of the owners who fought unsuccessfully to get the cemetery legalized during the 1990s. "It's probably a sign of the times."

Mrs. Carpenter is paying several hundred dollars to have all six of her family's dogs and cats moved to another cemetery within the next few months.

"They're part of the family," she said of the pets, whose graves are still adorned with plastic flowers.

Evergreen Pet Cemetery, about seven miles outside Richmond, appears neglected, though some grave sites are kept well-groomed by owners of the deceased animals.

Graves are spaced so close together that caskets are practically touching. Plaques have been covered with grass. Mrs. White's old house sits on the property.

A highway interchange is planned to run right past the cemetery. Groundbreaking on the new development could occur in four years, when the interchange is completed.

The lack of records is making it difficult for Mr. Gelletly to find the owners, many of whom are likely themselves deceased. After more than three months of fruitless investigation, he finally placed an ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Local media picked up on the story, which has helped to get the word out. He has accounted for about 150 pets so far.

Mr. Gelletly personally has spoken with about 60 owners, most of whom were cooperative about moving their beloved creatures' remains. He did get a message from one disgruntled man who said he had a list of owners, but wouldn't hand it over.

Mr. Gelletly is compiling a database of names and is seeking suggestions from owners and others on what to do with the disinterred animals. Several other cemeteries in the area have offered to move the pets.

Mary Pickett, operator of Richmond Pet Memorial Park in Doswell, Va., hopes to reach an agreement that would allow her to relocate all of the pets to land she is donating.

She would have to charge the company or owners a disinterment-reinterment fee of $175 to $265 to hand-dig the old graves. Since 1995, Miss Pickett has moved about 50 pets whose owners were uncertain about the future of Evergreen Pet Cemetery.

Some owners already have contacted her this week to move their individual plots at their own expense, though she estimates that 60 percent of the owners themselves have passed on. It is her fear that that many pets could be "black-topped over."

"It's a frustrating thing to think about," she said. "It's also a very sad thing."

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