Barbara McQuillen walks an emotional tightrope while discussing the events that brought her to Napa's Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park to rebury her bearded collie, Erin.
"I just want to get this over with," McQuillen sighed Wednesday.
McQuillen, who lives in San Francisco, and other pet owners find themselves heartsick and infuriated after discovering that pets buried in a Colma pet cemetery — in some cases long ago — must be exhumed from their plots and either reburied or cremated.
Pet's Rest in Colma used leased land to bury pets, and now the original owners want the land back. Napa's Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park on Atlas Peak Road has helped a few owners rebury their pets, with the potential for more to come. An estimated 1,000 pets will be exhumed.
Patricia Anderson of San Francisco buried her cat Tina at Pet's Rest in 1971. Anderson decided to rebury Tina at Bubbling Well after receiving a May 22 letter from Pet's Rest informing her of the cemetery's inability to purchase the leased land.
"I'm so angry with that man (Phillip C'de Baca, Pet's Rest owner). He should have told everybody he wasn't sure about the land, if he was honest. He never said a word," said Anderson.
McQuillen said her dealings with C'de Baca left a bad taste in her mouth, as well. She said she was so upset with C'de Baca's treatment of her bearded collie's burial that she eventually filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the state Attorney General.
"They didn't refrigerate her and there were thousands of flies all over her body. Nobody was around. It was horrendous," she said. "I tried to put him out of business."
She said C'de Baca later apologized and offered to create a special memorial for the pet.
Letters of intent
The letter sent to Anderson and other affected pet owners states that Pet's Rest signed a 20-year contract in 1986 leasing property from Cypress Abbey, "with the further understanding that Pet's Rest would, in all likelihood, acquire the ownership of some, if not all, of the land being used."
Another letter dated June 7 addressing the news coverage about Pet's Rest details two recent attempts by C'de Baca at contacting Cypress Abbey to resolve the situation, only to be denied.
"At that point, it became clear that I had no choice but to comply," wrote C'de Baca in the letter.
The letter goes on to state that pet owners can transfer the remains to a new location on Pet's Rest property, including a chance to witness the transfer, or opt for removal and cremation, all at no charge.
When called to double-check information as well as get his side of the story, C'de Baca replied "I'm done doing interviews but thanks anyway," and directed inquires to his Web site, www.petsrest.com, where the letter was reprinted.
Why rebury a pet?
Veterinarian Dr. Rick Timmins, director of the Center for Animals in Society at UC Davis, says research shows attachment between owners and their pets has grown stronger over the decades. This research points to a reason people are willing to travel from more than 60 miles from Colma to Napa and pay a considerable expense to bury their pet again.
"(Up to) 85 percent of pet owners consider pets to be a member of the family and treat them like that," said Timmins. "If this happened to another family member, they would do the same. The feelings and emotions from burying them the first time do not go away and the memories are extremely similar to what people go through with burying humans."
History repeats at Bubbling Well
Bubbling Well owner Dan Harberts said Foothill Pet Cemetery in Los Altos used Bubbling Well in the mid-'70s to rebury 200 to 300 pets after zoning changes allowed housing development and resulted in huge increases in property value.
Owners of the Los Altos cemetery had planned to move the graves to a special place on the property, but pet owners protested. Bubbling Well was hired to move the plots, all of which still have their own sectioned off space at the park.
"Compared to what they made (on selling the property), what they paid us was chump change," said Harberts.
Is it possible that what happened in Los Altos or at Pet's Rest could happen at Bubbling Well?
"Nothing is forever," said Harberts, whose land sits in rugged, sloping country a few miles up from Silverado Resort. "There is no guarantee in reality, but if you do the right things you will be OK."
One way Bubbling Well has prepared for the future is by creating a continuous care fund. Money has been set aside for many years from a maintenance fee pet owners pay annually, starting three years after their pet is buried. The goal, Harberts said, is to invest wisely and conservatively to maintain the park. The fund is "alive, well and very strong," he said.
Harberts is considering creating a board of trustees to manage the park so it can go on without him once he retires. Harberts said he would be a part of this board.
"I don't see selling it. I wouldn't feel good about it unless (the buyers) were very special, like a nonprofit," said Harberts. "I don't think I'll ever be done with Bubbling Well. I really enjoy that we're, in a sense, helping somebody. It gives me a huge amount of satisfaction."
If Anderson and McQuillen are any indication, Harberts can feel good about the work he's done. Both had high praise for the park, Harberts and the staff.
After signing the paperwork in the office at Bubbling Well, surrounded by paintings and photographs of cats and dogs, McQuillen is melancholy as she waits to say goodbye to Erin, again.
"The only bad thing about having pets is they don't last forever," said McQuillen.