It will not be possible to identify animals buried at a pet crematory in Morgan County where remains were excavated this week after a state investigation, officials said Wednesday.
News of the investigation and excavations this week has left many pet owners, including in Anderson County, wondering whether animals they paid to have cremated might be among those buried at the rural wooded site near the Roane County line.
The crematory site on Grouse Ridge Road is operated by Elliott Pet Services. It was the subject of a citizen’s complaint in September that alleged animals were being dumped on the site.
In September, the business also received an open dumping violation notice from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. And in October, the company was cited for not maintaining logs.
Business owner Cameo Farr and her attorney, Kevin Angel of Oak Ridge, told several Knoxville television stations that burying animals is part of her business, and she has always cremated animals that were supposed to be cremated.
“I’ve never done anything unethical with those pets,” Farr told WVLT-TV. “Everyone who has paid me for a cremation has gotten a private cremation, and their ashes back.”
Farr, who has been operating her business since 1995, said she was unaware the burials were a problem until the state recently ordered her to stop burying animals. Angel told WBIR-TV that Farr has not committed any crimes, and he said she was the target of a dispute between neighbors.
But TDEC told Farr in September that it is a violation of the Division of Solid Waste Management’s regulations to dispose of solid waste on non-permitted property. On Sept. 13, a TDEC environmental specialist visited her property in response to an odor complaint and allegedly discovered a pile of dead animals, which were removed or incinerated within a few days, according to TDEC and Farr.
“When animals are brought in, they shall not be kept outside on the ground for a period over three days, or if they are causing a nuisance, the time shall be shorter,” TDEC said in a Sept. 17 violation notice. “If the capacity of your incinerator is overwhelmed, please adjust the amount of animals brought in to keep them from decomposing on the ground before they can be incinerated.”
TDEC told Farr that all solid waste disposal must be stopped, and the waste must be removed to an appropriate recycling, processing, or permitted disposal facility.
On Wednesday, TDEC confirmed that the company’s incinerator had stopped working at some point, although they couldn’t say when or for how long.
Angel told WATE-TV it was for just a few days, and it was quickly fixed, inspected, and approved.
“No dogs were buried because the incinerator was out,” Angel told the television station. “They were buried because that was the agreement Ms. Farr had with those people. Ms. Farr would guarantee that anybody that paid her to cremate their animal, their animal was in fact cremated.”
Still, some pet owners aren’t so sure. Some have questions about the ashes they received after paying for cremations, and they want the peace of mind of knowing that the ashes really belonged to their pets.
Among those animal lovers is Clinton resident Karen Dypolt, the founder and director of Dames for Danes, an organization that rescues Great Danes.
She said she has had two Great Danes, Scooby and Jake, cremated by Elliott Pet Services within the past 13 months. Jake’s cremation was just a few months ago, in August.
“We would have never sent them outside to be dumped in a pit,” Dypolt said.
State officials said it wasn’t clear yet whether the buried animals excavated this week had come from veterinarians or individual customers.
TDEC spokeswoman Shannon Ashford said concerned pet owners can contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at (800) 342-8385 or (615) 741-4737, where they can file a complaint or ask questions. Pet owners can also visit the division’s website and file an online complaint form at www.tn.gov/consumer, Ashford said.
Alyson Kennedy, assistant district attorney in the Ninth Judicial District— which includes Loudon, Meigs, Morgan, and Roane—is monitoring the TDEC investigation.
“Once TDEC completes its investigation, there will be an opportunity for us to evaluate whether to pursue criminal charges, whether criminal charges are even appropriate in this case,” Kennedy said. “All that depends on what TDEC finds or doesn’t find.”
The DA’s office is interested in hearing from people who might have been victims, Kennedy said. She recommended that people send something in writing documenting as best they can when their pet died, what kind of animal it was, when Elliott Pet Services might have picked it up, and any other important details. That information can be sent to Ninth Judicial District, Attn: Alyson Kennedy, 1008 Bradford Way, Kingston, TN 37763-0703. Kennedy can also be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].
State officials didn’t have an estimate of the number of animals excavated this week. But WATE-TV reported there were hundreds of animals, primarily dogs, in at least three large pits, about four feet deep each.
Ashford said the department could have a report available within a few days that includes more information.
She said Farr has cooperated with the cleanup.
TDEC started excavating at the crematory on Tuesday, using heavy equipment to dig up animal remains from several pits. Officials had hoped to finish the work on Wednesday.
The department said it hadn’t found anything unexpected, meaning it was only digging up animal remains.
“We know this has been a very difficult situation for them,” Ashford said, referring to pet owners. “The animals we are excavating have been buried up to a year or more. Unfortunately, we do not have records of where they came from, and the condition of the remains makes them impossible to identify.”
Farr was not available for comment on Wednesday, and her husband Jimmy Farr referred a reporter to Angel. Angel did not respond to phone messages and e-mails from Oak Ridge Today on Wednesday and Thursday.
Disclosure: Oak Ridge Today co-owners and publishers John and Dawn Huotari, as well as other family members, have used Elliott Pet Services for cremations.
More information will be added as it becomes available.