PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -
Thousands of graves in a Pinellas County pet cemetery are at risk of desecration.
The owner of Green Mounds Pet Cemetery says she can no longer afford maintenance or taxes on the property, and urges those who buried their pets there to move them as soon as possible.
Fletcher Enterprises, Inc. owns Green Mounds. The company president is Laura Fletcher.
"In another year the county will most likely take possession of the property due to back taxes owed," Fletcher wrote in an email.
She strongly advises pet owners to move their animals to another cemetery before someone else takes the property and decides to develop and bulldoze it.
Pet owner Joann Vaught contacted 8 On Your Side when she found the cemetery in disarray. Vaught buried her white poodle, named Martini, in Green Mounds back in 1979.
"I get angry at this place not being maintained, because I did pay for perpetual care," Vaught said.
Green Mounds, which sits off U.S. 19 N near the Largo city line, is itself, buried beneath a thick blanket of weeds and scrub. More than 6,000 pets are reportedly buried in Green Mounds. Nearly all the gravestones are hidden beneath overgrowth.
The cemetery's mausoleum is a flop house for some nameless nomad. A makeshift mattress lies in the building, and his underwear hangs on a railing.
"I think it's deplorable, it's such a disgrace to the memory of our beloved pets," Vaught said.
Now that the future of the property is uncertain, Vaught has even more to be upset about.
"This is very disturbing to me," she said.
In 1991, Jonni McKay buried her dog, Cissy, in Green Mounds. She paid extra to place Cissy's picture on the gravestone. Her records show she also paid extra for perpetual care.
"Those animals mean everything to the people that had them buried out there," McKay said.
She said she chose to bury Cissy and another puppy, as well as a cat, in Green Mounds because the former owners kept it so well maintained.
"It was beautiful, the grounds were all kept perfect," McKay recalled.
Fletcher Enterprises, Inc., owned a Harley Davidson dealership next door. The company purchased the cemetery in 2000. It wanted to use part of the property to expand parking for the motorcycle business.
Fletcher claims all the animals put in Green Mounds were already buried before Fletcher Enterprises, Inc. took possession of the property.
When the dealership went out of business, the upkeep on the cemetery went with it.
McKay and Vaught both complained to Pinellas county code enforcement in the last several months about the overgrowth.
Each time the county issued Fletcher a warning, and each time the county says Fletcher sent a crew to whack down the weeds.
According to code enforcement manager Todd Myers, that is the extent of the county's involvement.
"We don't have the ability to get into detailed maintenance that somebody would expect in a situation like that, but we do have the ability to ask them to keep the lawn mowed, keep it at a normal level, which is under the 12 inches and maintain it on a regular basis," Myers said.
Pet cemeteries are not regulated by the state. In Pinellas, only code enforcement watches.
Fletcher told 8 On Your Side that she is willing to donate Green Mounds to another pet cemetery or anyone who will maintain it.
She contends her family is animal friendly, but her company can no longer guarantee the future of the property.
In an email, Fletcher wrote that if owners don't move their pets, she is almost certain someone eventually will.
She added, "We are within our rights to sell, donate or build on the property as we see fit. We chose not to do any of these until pets could be moved. It has been a year and a half. Plenty of time to move them. Do it soon or you may not get a say in what happens to them once we no longer own the property." Related: