Advertisement

Plan to redevelop Surrey pet cemetery site stokes opposition

A disturbed, partially covered headstone at a former pet cemetery in Surrey's Newton neighbourhood. The land is proposed for redevelopment and opponents don't want the land, with hundreds of pets interred in it over 40 years, to be dug up. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
A disturbed, partially covered headstone at a former pet cemetery in Surrey's Newton neighbourhood. The land is proposed for redevelopment and opponents don't want the land, with hundreds of pets interred in it over 40 years, to be dug up. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

Some residents, animal lovers and a city councillor in Surrey, B.C., are criticizing the proposed redevelopment of a former pet cemetery where grieving owners laid their animals to rest for 40 years.

Plans are in the works to build three homes at the corner of 147A Street and 78 Avenue on a piece of land where hundreds of pets were interred from 1952 to 1992.

"I take it as a sacred place," said Kristin Schumacher, a Surrey pet-sitter who's started a petition opposing the proposal.

"We call ourselves pet parents and they are our fur babies … When one passes away, people mourn — I can't say just like [they would for] a human — but they still mourn. It's still a part of your life that's gone."

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Schumacher's petition already has over 2,000 signatures. She's contacting elected officials and seeking legal advice for how to stop the cemetery from being redeveloped.

However, Rebeka Breder, a lawyer who focuses on animal law, says there may be little recourse.

"The sad reality is that there aren't really any legal protections for pet cemeteries in British Columbia," Breder said. "The next developer or property owner can just dig up the cemetery and do what they like with the remains."

WATCH | Development would see remains "going in the trash," pet-sitter says:

'Some of the epitaphs are quite moving'

The land today is a big suburban lot surrounded by single-family homes and surprisingly busy streets. Several large trees adorn it, along with what appears to be a long-gone pathway and the remnants of thick brush.

A closer look reveals rows of tiny, decaying plots with headstones memorializing Skipper, Sailor, Piggey, Fido, Sheba and countless other names. Some offer praise for well lived animal lives.

"My darling Mitzi," one reads, in memory of a pet that lived from 1974 to 1987. "Mommy and Daddy love you forever."

Submitted by Kristin Schumacher
Submitted by Kristin Schumacher

Dave Corrin thinks the land should stay as it is. He's spent the last few years voluntarily maintaining the grounds, which have been closed since 1992.

He also buried his cat there, Two White Socks, decades after the cemetery closed.

He describes himself as a Celtic revivalist and says a love of nature and animals is a large part of what motivated him to start cutting back the brambles and clearing debris off headstones at the site.

"I decided that someone has to look after this place because nobody was doing it," Corrin said. "Some of the epitaphs are quite moving."

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Council vote not needed

In a statement, the City of Surrey said the proposed development conforms to existing zoning and "there is nothing to indicate that there is a technical reason to deny a subdivision."

"The owner could submit for a building permit at any time and the city would be obligated to issue a permit if the design conforms to the building code," a spokesperson wrote.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

The spokesperson added council will not need to vote on the project, but one councillor is expressing concern about it.

"People bought spots there with the best of intentions of that being their forever home for their pet," Annis said. "And I think that the city should be contemplating making that a neighbourhood park or something."

Schumacher and Corrin agree with that idea.

Turnberry Developments says it bought the land in 1993 and paid taxes and kept up maintenance of the site for over 30 years.

It said it did propose making the land a park or pursue a non-profit buying it in the 1990s but that never happened. The land has now been sold to a Surrey homebuilder.

Turnberry said over the years, three former pet owners have claimed headstones from the site and it has accommodated all requests.

Schumacher, Breder and Corrin all say this story highlights that B.C. needs laws to prevent pet cemeteries from redevelopment.

Surrey says the redevelopment could be approved within months.