Future of southeast valley pet cemetery uncertain

It's a horror story that is all too true, and upsetting for people who buried their pets at a pet cemetery in San Tan Valley, especially as the land continues to go through different owners.

The current owner is allowing pet owners to come dig up their pets, but at their own expense.

"It's just frustrating, and it's beginning to be a horror story," said Millie Shewchuck.

Shewchuck is talking about the San Tan Pet Cemetery in the southeast valley where her dogs are buried. In 2002, she buried her dog Lucy, and then another dog in 2002. The owner at the time was a woman named Cheryl.

"She tried to hang on as long as she could, but she wasn't making any money on it, she said she had to put like $50,000 into it," said Shewchuck.

Shewchuck said she gave Cheryl money, donated plants, and yard decorations to keep up. She stopped visiting the cemetery in 2008 when her husband passed away. It wasn't until recently that she heard from a woman named Debra Cooper who lives in Virginia. Cooper buried her German Shepherd mix in the cemetery in 1992. She paid the original property owners nearly $800 for the plot.

"My understanding from him was that they always wanted it to be a pet cemetery, and they were concerned because they were in their early 70's at the time. He said my worst nightmare would be if something were to happen to Juanita, who was his wife at the time and someone did not continue the cemetery," said Debra Cooper.

Now in 2016, the fate of the property hangs in the balance.

"I think that people should be aware that this could be happening. I didn't see anyone trying to locate the owners, and that's why I wanted to do this," said Cooper.

After the Miller's had passed away, Cheryl bought the property and most recently another owner took it over in January.

"In the beginning, in January he said that he was going to develop the property, and the photos that were sent to me of the cemetery, there was a sign saying you may remove your pets from here, this property may be developed," she said.

The current owner did not want to speak to FOX 10 on camera but did say the plans have always been to clean up the property and build a single family home. He never had the intention of developing over the cemetery. Now he plans to sell the property and has reached out to pet cemetery's all over the country to see if any are interested in buying his property.

"If he doesn't develop it, it can be developed by another owner, so the issue is, I just feel there was awareness that there was a pet cemetery there, and there should be some type of moral obligation to at least move my pet and the other pets to possibly another cemetery," said Cooper.

Cooper reached out to the owner of the pet cemetery in Tucson. They agreed to help relocate people's pets to her cemetery. But the cost would be around $1,200.

"I think that it's a lot of money, but I'm sure it's justified for the amount of work that's going to have to be done, but should the pet owners including myself have to burden that cost? I don't think that that is fair whatsoever. I think if you buy a piece of land, and that was already there, you should pay in order to relocate when that was already there," said Cooper.

The current owner says he does not feel financially responsible to relocate the pets but says people can come at any time to have them removed.

Although Cooper and Shewchuk don't agree with his position, they say they will do what it takes to give their pups a peaceful resting place.

Pinal County officials say the land is recognized as a pet cemetery and could remain one under the zoning code. The property isn't on the market yet.