Colma, Calif. Nila Negri grieved her two dogs and a cat years ago, when they were buried at the lone pet cemetery among 17 human graveyards in this town known as the "City of Souls."
Now she is back at the Pet's Rest cemetery, sitting on a gravestone, head in hands.
Some 1,000 animals buried here have to be dug up and moved because they were buried on leased property, and the landowner, a local real estate firm, wants to use it for human graves.
For Negri and the other owners, the prospect of seeing the animals exhumed stirred up grief they thought had been put to rest.
"I don't want anybody touching my pets," said Negri, who has lived in San Francisco since 1949.
Nearby, piles of freshly turned earth and cracked stone slabs marked places where animals had recently been removed, and a miniature coffin scarred with rust sat in the grass.
Pet's Rest owner Phillip C'de Baca sent letters in May to the pet owners buried at the graveyard's eastern end, giving them 15 days to choose between two free options: relocation or cremation.
Frantic pet owners recently staged a rally at the cemetery, and they are exploring legal options to stop the exhumations, said Cathryn Hrudicka, who buried her dog Poquito at Pet's Rest. "At no time was I told he was being buried on leased land," said Hrudicka, 53.
C'de Baca said he thought he'd be given the chance to buy the land once the lease was up. But the owner, the Cypress Abbey real estate firm, plans to use it as a human cemetery, said its attorney David J. Friedenberg.
"They've been waiting to get their property back," he said.
According to the lease agreement, Pet's Rest was required to notify everyone with animals buried on the leased land that "all rights of interment" would expire on May 19. Many with animals buried there said they were never notified.
California has no state regulations governing pet cemeteries, said Kevin Flanagan, a spokesman for the state's cemetery and funeral bureau.
Grief counselors who deal with pet loss say mourning a pet is as natural as mourning a person.
"It's like losing another child," said Dr. Carol A. Brothers, a clinical psychologist who specializes in grief and trauma. But, she said, "it's a disenfranchised grief."
Negri's cocker spaniel Rusty, her poodle Gigi and her cat Morden are among the 13,000 animals buried at Pet's Rest. Her husband and parents are also buried in the city, which became a magnet for cemeteries after a San Francisco law passed in 1900 prohibited the burial of human remains within city limits.
Negri said she didn't get a letter from C'de Baca but came anyway to make sure her pets weren't affected. She came out of the cemetery office smiling. Her pets could continue to rest in peace, she said.