All dogs may indeed go to heaven, but the fate of a decades-old pet cemetery southeast of Queen Creek is stuck firmly in limbo.
The new owner of San Tan Pet Cemetery — eternal resting place of Bo-Bo, Popo, Thumpie, Pooskeinstein and about 300 other beloved animals — said she is facing legal and health crises preventing her from making planned site improvements or accepting new customers.
Fountain Hills resident Nancy Puffer, who bought the place sight-unseen in December, said she learned after the fact that the previous owners never applied for a business license or filed any paperwork with Pinal County, where the cemetery is located.
"The county doesn’t have any records of them operating a business," she said.
"I was supposed to be provided with documents that said I could (run a pet cemetery), but I wasn’t," Puffer said.
Puffer said she wanted a pet cemetery so badly, and they are so scarce, that she didn’t perform the due diligence she probably should have before taking on the 30-year-old business.
To make matters worse, Puffer said she’s had both of her hips replaced since January and is in no shape to be fighting legal battles or running a new enterprise.
As a result, the cemetery grounds have languished for months with little upkeep, which has caused serious concerns for Mesa resident Millie Shewchuk, who has two dogs — Lucy and Tiffiny — buried there.
The graveyard looks more like Boot Hill than it does a working cemetery, with patches of dead grass and exposed dirt winding in and around the evenly dressed rows of small, rectangular and primarily species-neutral gravestones.
"We went there three weeks ago, and the weeds were so, so, so high," Shewchuk said. "I was really upset — I was in tears and everything."
Puffer hired a landscaping crew to trim the grass and cut back the weeds after Shewchuk complained, but the piles of mulch were still heaped around the graveyard’s edges when Shewchuk visited again Saturday.
There are reams of legislation dictating rules for the licensing and operation of human cemeteries, but their animal counterparts are largely unregulated.
There is an industry association that sets recommended standards and practices, but they are not mandatory.
Still, Puffer said she wants to restore the cemetery to pristine condition and add new features such as an offleash dog park. "I’m sort of in a holding pattern," she said.