Leaves and twigs crunched under Kelly Rowe's feet as she stepped along rows of gravestones Sunday. She bent down to wipe leaves and dirt from one with her gloved hand, then looked across the thousands in the cemetery, many of them barely visible amid the overgrown brush.
Bonnie Blue, 1936-1947 — "So Dear to Us."
Duke, 1941 — "A Sweet Memory."
Honey Bell, 1932-1936 — "Always Loyal."
Nearby tombstones fondly remembered Dottie, Tootsie, Happy and Fusty.
More than 4,600 dogs, cats and other pets were buried at the Oakleigh Pet Cemetery in its heyday in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s before it fell into neglect, according to Cynthia Eisenrauch, property manager. The nearly 2-acre plot at Oakleigh Road and Putty Hill Avenue in Parkville, she said, is one of the largest pet cemeteries in the state.
Rowe and a group of more than 30 volunteers, most of them coworkers at the Hunt Valley Animal Hospital, spent Sunday clearing decades of weeds, trash and other debris from the grounds in hopes of restoring the cemetery to its former splendor.
"I hate to think of all these lost souls," Rowe said. "A graveyard's meant to be a place of peace, not something that becomes a dump site."
Rowe, hospital administrator at Hunt Valley Animal Hospital, said she and her co-workers were looking for a way to honor two colleagues who recently died, Dr. Courtney "C.J." Jones and Linda Rumenap. She stumbled across Eisenrauch's Facebook page, "Preservation of the Oakleigh Pet Cemetery," and thought an effort to help the cemetery would be a fitting tribute.
The abandoned cemetery had grown so wild that neighbors complained and Baltimore County fined the owner, Eisenrauch said. She offered to manage the property and fix it up, but quickly realized it was a much bigger job than she had anticipated.
"We've been trying to get it cleaned for three years," she said.
Bob Heede, 59, pushed a Brush Hog weed cutter Sunday through dense bramble to create paths between the graves. He said he grew up nearby and used to visit the cemetery as a child.
Heede said the dozens of volunteers Sunday helped immeasurably.
"We probably made as much progress today as we have in years," he said. "This place hasn't looked this good in 40 or 50 years."
Volunteers brought their own rakes, weed trimmers, clippers, wheelbarrows, leaf blowers and other landscaping supplies to fix up the graveyard, Rowe said. Sixty-gallon trash bags filled with leaves and twigs lined a path; larger branches collected in tarps and wheelbarrows formed a giant pile to be burned.
Ellen Woodson, 40, a veterinary technician, said she enjoyed reading the memorials on the gravestones.
She pointed out one of her favorites, a simple, low-lying stone that bore no name, birth or death dates, but said: "If Tears Could Build A Stairway And Memories A Lane, I'd Walk Right Up To Heaven And Bring You Home Again."
The cleanup, she said, was "a nice opportunity for the animals to be seen again."
Eisenrauch said the memorials touch her emotionally.
"It's all love," she said. "If you look at this one — 'Baby, We Love You' — you just get that warm, loving feeling."