Crispy Critters

Opponents dog plans for a Pearland-area pet crematory

Nothing scared Ginny Anderson more than learning about groundwater contamination more than ten years ago. It was suspected of causing some cancers and even deaths in the section of Brazoria County between Friendswood and Pearland, a place she calls home.

Authorities minimized the health concerns and attributed the problems to leftover radioactive wastes from a petroleum servicing company that closed in Pearland in 1970. It required a $7 million cleanup of soils at nine sites in that area.

Having lived through environmental problems earlier, Anderson and her neighbors recently saw a public notice stating that Crespo Family Services had applied for an air-quality license with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).

Ginny Anderson loves her pets - but not the crematory plan.
Deron Neblett
Ginny Anderson loves her pets - but not the crematory plan.
Ginny Anderson loves her pets - but not the crematory plan.
Deron Neblett
Ginny Anderson loves her pets - but not the crematory plan.

And the community's sensory alarms went off.

Anderson learned of the company's big-time pet project: an animal crematory just off County Road 127, not far from her home. Crespo proposed to eventually expand the site into a full-scale cemetery for animals.

"We're not a zoned area, so we try to protect ourselves," Anderson says. She gathered a few neighbors and held community meetings to learn how people felt about the proposed location for a pet-burning facility. It is within 100 feet of some homes and close to Rustic Oak Elementary School, creating some fears that it would impact children with respiratory problems.

"It could affect our health, but it also disrupts the community," Anderson says. "This is a residential community where children play. This is not an industrial area."

While she and others battle the measure, Anthony Crespo -- father of five children and owner of two cats and a dog -- continues to patiently wait to create his supersize pet cemetery.

Crespo and wife Madeleine swear that when they first envisioned the complex to be known as All God's Creatures, they never imagined their pet-friendly proposal would spark such controversy.

As the nephew of Manuel Crespo, the founder of the funeral home of that name, Anthony Crespo had spent 20 years in the mortuary business in Houston. He and his wife moved back to the Friendswood/Pearland area where he grew up. He took a job as a financial adviser; she took a position working with an organ donation center.

They say their experiences with death ceremonies for humans made them aware that pet owners suffer from a shortage of options in memorializing the deaths of their animals.

"We noticed over the years that losing a pet is as traumatic as losing a member of the family," Anthony Crespo says. "In fact, it's like losing a member of the family."

Renters and most homeowners don't have the option of formal backyard burials to honor their dead pets, he says. Crespo says he hired researchers from the University of Houston to study pet loss and ways to dispose of the remains. He contracted with marketing personnel to conduct focus-group studies of pet owners and animal specialists/vets to understand how they wanted to memorialize the loss of their furry family treasures.

The conclusion, Crespo says, is that not only is cremating pets a dignified way to send an animal off, it is the most environmentally sound.

"Cremation is a much more widely used option when it comes to death in the family," Crespo says. "Our research showed that in states such as Florida and California, the cremation rate is as high as 50 percent. That's partly because we have a more mobile society and partly because people in those states have found it to be a much more efficient, cleaner process for burial."

Crespo would initially build the crematory and develop a funeral home for the likes of Fido on five of his ten acres. "My master plan is designed with local architects and environmental engineers. We'll have places for ceremonies and a room reserved for people to come and view their pet before cremation," he explains.

A special section will be dedicated to service-type animals, such as Seeing Eye dogs and police canines. "I want to give people a place to pay tribute to these special animals that enhance and sometimes save our lives," he says.

The other five acres eventually would be developed as a pet cemetery, accented by two ponds, a park with a trail, an aviary and an educational facility for veterinarians.

As a funeral home veteran, Crespo delivers his vision in tones of soft reassurance, contrasting with the combative mode of Anderson and the other neighborhood activists. But both sides appear to be clouding the issues in some key areas.

"It's not so much what he's doing, because I think it's a great idea," Anderson says. "He'll probably make millions at it, but not in the middle of a neighborhood where there are children playing….This is a residential area, and he's trying to build a business. There's a school that's close by, and he's bringing dead animals right next door to people?"

While there are housing developments in the general vicinity of the proposed crematory, it would be straining credibility to say Crespo targeted an exclusively residential area. Businesses line portions of the county road, and directly across from the site is bustling Clover Field Airport.

"One small passenger airplane taking off at Clover Field Airport emits what it would take this burning facility three years to burn off," Crespo says. "The TNRCC agreed that it was well below the allowable rates -- hardly measurable."

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