Max is one of two dogs Jill Lepler Daly buried at Heavenly Acres Pet Cemetery in Howell, which lost its lease and is now closed.

Pet owners fight to save final resting place of their beloved pets.

Joyce Wiswell, Contributing Writer

When Jill Lepler Daly’s two beloved dogs died more than 15 years apart, she purchased each a coffin and headstone and tucked special notes and pictures in with them when they were buried at Heavenly Acres Pet Cemetery in Genoa Township.

“We want to know where they will always be buried permanently so we can visit and they can rest in peace,” the Commerce Township resident said.

Over the past 18 years, Kim Goldstein of West Bloomfield did the same for her four dogs, burying each in a casket with their pillows, blankets, toys, pictures “and love all around them.”

“It wasn’t like you just threw them in the ground,” Goldstein said. “These are your babies.”

The two women were shocked to learn last fall that the 12-acre pet cemetery has lost its lease and may be sold. “No Trespassing” signs are keeping them off the property, and they may have to exhume their pets or lose their remains to a bulldozer.

They and close to 30 other pet owners have joined forces to take legal action, establishing a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising $30,000. The goal is to have the site deeded as a pet cemetery and damages awarded to the owners who were defrauded.

The fate of the cemetery and as many as 74,000 animal remains is up in the air. On Jan. 9, a Livingston County Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent a sale or any changes to the property. A hearing is set for today, Jan. 24.

Attorney Albert Holtz of West Bloomfield helped spearhead the suit, though decided it was better to hire outside counsel than handle it himself. He and his wife, Debbie, have five pets — four rescued golden retrievers and a cat — buried at the site.

“The Jewish religion kind of frowns on cremation for a human and I guess, emotionally, I apply that to my pets as well,” said Holtz, a member of Temple Shir Shalom, B’nai B’rith, the Jewish Lawyers Association of Michigan and the American Jewish Committee. “As far as I am concerned, each had a soul.”

Lepler Daly buried her dog Sandy at Heavenly Acres 20 years ago and Max, who lived to be nearly 17, about three years ago. “This was the first time my daughter lost something that she loved,” she said. “We would go visit and clean the grave and put flowers down. She is an only child so Max was like her sibling.”

Meredith Daly with her beloved Max, who lived to be nearly 17

Meredith Daly, a sixth-grader at Walled Lake Clifford H. Smart Middle School, is preparing for her bat mitzvah in October at Temple Israel and, as one of her mitzvahs, is helping raise money for the legal fight.

“I knew Max since I was a baby. He used to watch me take a bath,” said Meredith, who also plans to help out at an assisted living facility and perhaps an animal organization. “He was a really sweet dog and we really loved him.”
Goldstein has buried four dogs at Heavenly Acres since 2001, each at an expense of about $1,100.

“We don’t want it bulldozed over. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about it,” she said. “It felt good to bury them with all their stuff and now this whole thing is bringing it all back. I get tears in my eyes because of it.”

Lepler Daly hopes to be able to visit her dogs at Heavenly Acres soon.

“Once you get past the dilapidated building and kennels, it is beautiful out there and so peaceful,” she said. “Even if it doesn’t stay in business, just leave them alone and let them rest in peace.”

Holtz, who said it seems “a disproportionate” number of Heavenly Acres clients are Jews from Oakland County, said the temporary injunction helped buoy his spirits. “It means the lawsuit is being taken extremely seriously by the court,” he said.

To contribute to the legal fight, visit gofundme.com/gofundmecompet-owners-to-save-howell-pet-cemetery.