A dispute over dogs, and more specifically their crap, at Evergreen Washelli Funeral Home and Cemetery on Aurora has led one Seattle man to go to great lengths to get his point across. He says dog owners who frequent the cemetery often let their dogs run off leash, and sometimes these dogs do their business where they shouldn't - specifically near headstones and burial sites.
This angry man is so disturbed by the dogs frequenting the cemetery that he stood outside Evergreen Washelli and protested over four days last week, raising a serious one-man stink about something General Manager Scott Sheehan, as empathetically as a dude who works at a funeral home, says he's never received a similar complaint about in 15 years on the job.
The poop-protestor is Ken, a Seattle resident who doesn't want to give his full identity because he fears the backlash. He's had his car smeared with feces while holding his sign in front of Evergreen Washelli, you see, and that can apparently scar someone. "It looked like it had been multiple larger dog shits in the bag," recalls Ken. "It wasn't just a little tiny poop. It was literally smeared all over."
A police report filed after the poop-smearing noted: "[Victim] reported two bags of dog feces had been thrown at his car and the excrement had been spread all over the driver side door handle, the door, the hood, and the roof of the car. Despite his efforts to clean his car at the scene, there were still small amounts of fecal matter on his car when I responded to investigate. Dried chunks that remained were said to be left over from the larger piles of waste that had been stuck to the car."
While, according to the police report, Ken suspects the dog poop may have been the work of cemetery staff, Evergreen Washelli Cemetery Manager Brenda Spicer strongly denies the allegation.
"Actually, we were not even aware that happened," says Spicer. "It's hard to respond to something you hadn't even heard about."
In his late thirties, Ken says he has three generations buried at the cemetery, and visits every month or so. By the sound of it, his unhappiness over the dog policy at Evergreen Washelli has been long festering. In addition to the four days he spent holding a sign in front of the Aurora location last week, he's also taken his message to the Evergreen Washelli funeral home in Bothell on one occasion. And that's not counting the letters he's written to national funeral home and cemetery organizations expressing his concerns.
Ken says large open spaces within Evergreen Washelli's 160 acres attract off-leash dogs, even though the cemetery has signs instructing dog owners to keep their canine companions tethered. Ken says the open spaces, which have no burials and are used for larger events at the cemetery, are basically considered off-leash dog parks by the surrounding community - something Sheehan says isn't true. Sheehan says dogs are supposed to be on-leash throughout Evergreen Washelli's acreage, though he admits sometimes people break the rules in one specific large open area.
"When a person enters the cemetery to visit someone, they either have a good mood, a bad mood, or a sad mood - but they are there for one specific reason, and that's to visit their dead. And that's my problem," says Ken. "When you're in that mood, that state, [dog crap] is not something you should have to deal with."
Sheehan says he's never encountered someone as upset about the dogs that visit Washelli Evergreen as Ken, and though he respects his feelings, he says the protest is greatly overstating the poop problem. Sheehan says geese and flower-dumping crows have caused far more complaints than dog poop during his tenure at the cemetery.
"[The cemetery has] never been intended to be a dog park. As you know, being a part of the Northwest, most of the families we serve have pets. We welcome all the folks that come to the cemetery, families, all the folks around us that work here, that walk here. ... It's a very safe and secure place to walk," says Sheehan.
In his experience, Sheehan says no visitor asked by staff or grounds crew to do so has ever had a problem abiding by Evergreen Washelli's leash policy.
"Most families are very respectful," says Sheehan. "They get it. They'll leash up the dog right away."
While Sheehan says Evergreen Washelli already has a leash policy requiring dogs to be attached to their owners, he readily admits there are limits to how strictly the policy can be enforced. He also says harassing people about their dogs is not exactly a priority, considering the generally grieving state of many Evergreen Washelli visitors, and the fact they've received no complaints about the problem ... except from Ken.
"The whole park is identified at every entrance as on 'on leash' dog area," says Sheehan. "Do we use the full force of police to enforce it? Absolutely not. We don't want to upset folks, either.
"The reality is, some of the folks I think, they know that our grounds crew leaves at 4:30 [p.m.], and they'll come in after work or whatever. And gosh, we don't have a way to police it 24 hours a day," Sheehan continues. "Other than throwing an eight-foot tall chain-link fence around the entire thing, which doesn't promote what the cemetery is."
Ken is looking for more than Sheehan is willing to offer. If dogs are going to be allowed to run in the open areas of the cemetery, he wants these areas to be marked, fenced, and dog-poop bags to be available. He says he's seen repeat offenders letting their dogs run amok, even videotaped one, and that people who pay thousands of dollars for a burial plot at Evergreen Washelli shouldn't have to worry about Fido dropping a deuce on a deceased loved one.
"I've seen it a lot, people [walking their dogs] off leash. I'll say something, if they walk by me, but I'm not going to go out of my way. I had always just assumed they were insensitive dog owners," says Ken.
"I don't feel my family has been respected by what's happened," he says of finding dog droppings and at least one tennis ball near his buried loved ones.
"There's a full on campaign, and that was fine. He picketed us, even on Veteran's Day, and that was fine. We're totally OK with that," says Sheehan of Ken's public display of unhappiness. "We've all tried. Our solutions are not strong enough for what he would like. He would like our rules and regulations to be changed, and we've got to look at the entire community, all the families we serve, and try to do the right thing.
"I appreciate and respect the passion that he has. But when he asks me to change the rules and regulations for the cemetery for everything, there comes a point where we just can't come to a middle ground. And that's kind of where we ended up."