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Legal battle over pet cemetery

ONE OF America’s top pet cemeteries has become the focus of a fierce legal battle between its owner and the trustees who are responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery.

The final resting place for the cats and dogs of the rich lie beneath imposing headstones and aristocratic tombs, their foibles and qualities commemorated in stone for future generations to marvel at. The loyal companions to admirals and generals, and even J Edgar Hoover, the famed director of the FBI, will be remembered for many years after their deaths.

But the grounds of Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery, America's second oldest, in Silver Spring, Maryland, are not merely for the pets of the famous. The less fortunate are there too, among the 40,000 animal graves of this officially designated historic monument.

Lot 200 and Lot 202 do not contain the names and dates of the dearly beloved - their bones are covered by mere numbered plates. But their owners, when they laid them to rest, at least had the satisfaction of knowing that their former friends would reside forever in the company of some pretty distinguished pets.

However, the peace and tranquillity of the graveyard has been disturbed by an emotional battle for its future in the courts by the cemetery’s owner, Dorothy Shapiro, a wealthy widow who has buried many of her own pets in the grounds. Mrs Shapiro is demanding damages and the return of £366,000 in donations from the wildlife group she asked to run it nine years ago.

Mrs Shapiro, a benefactor of hospitals and universities, has already spent more than £265,000 pursuing the case, claiming that Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary has reneged on their deal, particularly by allowing parts of the cemetery to go to ruin.

The cemetery has gone "to waste" under the sanctuary's management, she claims. Some pet owners are in agreement with her, as many areas of the burial ground are overgrown. Bushes have swamped the rows of headstones and dead branches lie across several graves.

The sanctuary has responded by arguing that Mrs Shapiro has no right to take back the land.
The case is expected to go to trial later this year.