Commentary

Shaffer: Brier Creek pet cemetery abandoned to mud and weeds

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2013 

— Every year on June 14, Takeshi Goto makes a sad pilgrimage to the grave of his childhood pet – a black-and-white cat named Mico, a boon companion beginning with Goto’s sixth birthday.

But on his last trip to Pet Rest Cemetery, he found Mico’s burial ground choked with waist-high weeds, its gravestones sunk under thick red mud and its gazebo hauled away.

He tramped through the thicket and the puddles, but he couldn’t find the marker for his feline friend. No reunion this year, their 26th apart.

Get ready to foam at the mouth.

Eight years ago, the owners of Pet Rest Cemetery dug up the remains of 500 house pets – including a monkey, a pig and a dog named Puddles Eggleston – and sold their resting place for development at Brier Creek.

They notified the pet owners as best they could, but many of them, Goto included, learned about the mass disinterment when they showed up and found the cemetery vanished under an office complex.

As a consolation prize, their pets’ caskets were transported and reburied in a field off T.W. Alexander Road – only about a mile away.

But that was 2006. Owner Jerry Rogers died in 2010, and his widow, Jahala, has unceremoniously closed the place. She hopes to sell it and build over the graves.

“I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “I’m 75. It’s my land, and I can do anything I want with it. I can put a building on it.”

From the look of things, nobody has so much as cut a blade of grass in three years. You can see a bouquet of plastic flowers floating in the muck. Scrape the mud away from the stones, and you see the names chiseled in the marble: “Gigi,” “Bruno,” “Chinka my angel.”

“The light of God surrounds you,” says the inscription to Goober “Puss” Harrison. “The love of God enfolds you wherever your body is.”

I know they’re just animals. I know you don’t buy a plot of earth when you have one buried – a service that cost people at Pet Rest between $300 and $1,200. I’m sure it’s costly to maintain a piece of land, even just to mow it every other week.

But I think there’s a special kind of obligation that goes into looking after the remains of a creature that somebody loved, especially if you accept money for doing it. Even if it’s a guinea pig, the soil surrounding its bones is hallowed ground, and to my mind, you’re more or less obligated to take care of it forever.

I don’t think a cemetery is something you can close. It’s not a laundromat. Shut the gates and let the grass grow and you’ve still got the bodies underground.

Jahala Rogers told me that she closed her cemetery two years ago and that she informed people of its closing on TV and in newspapers. I can’t find those notices anywhere. Goto didn’t get one. He’d like a chance to move his cat’s grave, but he doesn’t know how to find it.

So I asked Rogers what she’d say to folks like Goto, who are driving up to the former Pet Rest to find it buried under vegetation.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Some of those pets have been there for years and years and if people don’t keep up with me and let me know where they are, what am I supposed to do?”

Maybe the people at Pet Rest didn’t offer their mourning customers any permanence.

But I’ll bet they didn’t mention, when they took the money, that they reserved the right to sell their pets’ final resting place one day, and they just might dig them all up and transport them down the road.

Neither, I’ll wager, did they notify any grievers that ownership might just walk away from the burial ground they’d paid for and let somebody build a Sheetz on top of Fluffy’s remains.

Whatever deal got made, it ain’t right.

I hope everybody involved in this indignity, especially the developer who paves over those gravestones, is haunted by the ghosts of a hundred screeching cats.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818