Door May Be Reopened for Group to Buy Pet Cemetery

Times Staff Writer

Two sides in a dispute over the sale of Los Angeles County's largest pet cemetery have softened their positions, possibly reopening the door for an animal lovers' group to buy it.

A lengthy campaign by the Save Our Pets' History in Eternity group to purchase the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas collapsed last week when the Los Angeles chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stopped the sale.

The SPCA has operated the cemetery since receiving it as a gift 11 years ago. It has been a drain on SPCA resources, however, and society leaders said they decided to sell it two years ago when the cemetery's operating costs outstripped its revenues by more than $50,000.

The 1,200-member Save Our Pets group began negotiating to buy the cemetery after two developers attempted to purchase it in 1983. Fearful that pet graves might be bulldozed as part of a nearby housing subdivision, group members raised more than $80,000 through donations for the acquisition.

SPCA officials said the sale fell through because the pet lovers' group balked at allowing the developers to review the group's proposed cemetery management plan. The SPCA officials said previous agreements with the builders required that the developers be guaranteed that the cemetery would not become an eyesore.

The dispute reached its climax Jan. 18, when the Save the Pets organization filed a breach of contract suit against the SPCA. The suit asks that the sale be ordered final and that the pet group be paid $1.75 million in damages by the society.

Concern for Maintenance

This week, however, developer Jon Galiher said he is willing to forgo review of the management plan if the animal lovers reword their purchase contract to promise "high quality" park maintenance in the future.

"If their escrow spells out that the cemetery will be well maintained in perpetuity, I will have no reason to be hard-nosed," said Galiher, who owns 25 acres next to the pet park that he purchased from the society.

He said the appearance of the cemetery is important to him because he plans to build four luxury houses on the land.

The pet lovers, meantime, said they too are willing to compromise and let Galiher see their management plan. Group lawyer Dennis Polen said Friday that the plan contains ample promises that the cemetery will be properly maintained.

"There are three 'forevers' in it," Polen said of the document. "That it will be a pet cemetery forever, well-maintained forever and properly managed through its management and operations plan forever.

"We are willing to talk at any time. The door is open."

But the SPCA's position in the dispute remained unclear.

Society lawyer and spokesman Richard Marsh said the SPCA will be influenced by the next actions of the animal lovers' group, which he characterized as having been "rather uncompromising" thus far.

"We're truly in the middle in all of this," Marsh said. "I don't know what our board will do."

Rin Tin Tin Resting Place

The 56-year-old, 30,000-grave cemetery at 5068 Old Scandia Lane is Los Angeles County's oldest and largest pet park. It is famous as the resting place for such animals as Rin Tin Tin and Leo, the MGM lion.

SPCA officials have stressed they want to get out of the cemetery business as quickly as possible so their efforts can be concentrated on live animals. They said last week that they hope to solicit new proposals for the Calabasas property from qualified cemetery operators.

According to Polen, however, his group's lawsuit has encumbered the property and blocked any such alternative sale.

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