Pet owners upset by cemetery closure

Liz Bell

GRIEVING pet owners will no longer be able to bury their pets at Victoria’s last remaining pet cemetery in Maffra, after the surprise sale of the site.

The five hectare site of Wellington Memorial Pet Cemetery in Fulton Rd has been the final resting place for many beloved pets since opening 12 years ago, including dogs, cats, horses and even a bird.

But elderly owners Leigh and Kaye Morris have been forced to sell because of health issues, and the site’s new owners will no longer operate pet burials.

The closure is the last in a long line of pet cemetery closures around the state, with Maffra the last to shut up shop.

Mr Morris said he was deeply saddened by the closure of the service.

“It’s been our mission over the years to provide a resting place for pets, so it’s very sad that we couldn’t get someone to take over the business,” he said.

“We would have liked to pass it on to our children, but they weren’t interested in keeping it going.

“We are both very, very sad to go.”

Mr Morris said the couple had hoped the new owners might keep some of the business open.

“My wife cried when she found out they wouldn’t.”

The site is believed to hold about 120 animals in its burial plots.

However, there will be no provision for pet owners to continue to visit the graves of their animals.

The Melbourne-based owner of a much-loved Labrador buried there last November said he was “devastated” to be told the cemetery was closing.

Barry Zani said he had looked all over Victoria for a suitable place to bury his 12-year-old dog CJ, and was relieved to find a pet cemetery at Maffra that would allow him to “visit my mate”.

Mr Zani said he was shocked when he received a letter recently advising pet owners to collect any plaques or remembrances left on their pets’ graves.

“I raced up there to collect CJs plaque, and it was a very sad day,” he said.

“I’m pretty upset about it … I’ve actually got a receipt they gave me that states that the $300 I paid includes the plot and ongoing visitation rights.”

Mr Morris said he was disappointed at having to close, but there was nothing he could do.  He said most local vets were referring their clients to cremation services, and there was little call for cemetery burials.

The pet burial industry was booming eight to 10 years ago, with pet cemeteries in Victoria filling fast and new ones in the pipeline in several municipalities.

But the trend was short-lived, and as Victorian land prices skyrocket and owners favour cremations or home burials, all but the Maffra pet cemetery have closed.

Pets Memorial Gardens in Rowville, a family business that had operated for almost 50 years, closed in June.

Several other former pet burial services in the state are now only trading as pet crematoriums.

Mr Morris said anyone wanting to open a new pet burial service in the area today would find it difficult because of new rural overlay regulations.

THE former owners of the Wellington Memorial Pet Cemetery have denied they told pet owners they had “ongoing” visitation rights to their animals’ grave sites.

As reported in the Gippsland Times on Tuesday, the recent closure of the Maffra pet cemetery has also shut the door on pet burials in Victoria, with the Wellington Shire site the last remaining one in the state.

The grieving owner of a Labrador buried at the cemetery last year, Melbourne-based Barry Zani, said he was upset that he would no longer be able to “visit my mate”, because of the sale of the cemetery land.

He maintains he has a receipt stating he was buying “ongoing” visitation rights when he bought the plot.

But former cemetery owner Leigh Morris disputed that claim.

“That wasn’t on the receipt,” he said.

“While we were operating the pet cemetery he had visitation rights,” he said.

Mr Morris said nobody else had complained about the cemetery’s closure, and all other former clients were content with their association with the cemetery.

Mr Morris and his wife Kaye were forced to sell the cemetery because of ill health, and said they were deeply saddened by the closure.