LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) – For Fred Kurtzman, the grief is still fresh. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. The kindhearted, retired Tampa obstetrician is heartbroken. His eyes welled with tears Wednesday afternoon as he shared deeply personal stories about his four-legged family members, now deceased.
Dr. Kurtzman was devastated each and every time he lost his beloved pups over the years. Their lives were precious to him and his wife, Nancy.
“They were my children,” Kurtzman told News Channel 8. “My human children have grown up, moved out of the house and now have lives of their own. These animals were more than just pets, they were my kids.”
The physician and his family have honored the lives of their feline and canine loved ones amidst grief. Kurtzman spoke especially fondly of his three dogs – Muffin, Hank and Echo. So, when the pets passed on, there was no doubt in this man’s mind that he would memorialize them just as he cared for them in life – with dignity, love and compassion.
He sought out a sacred place, where hallowed ground would serve as a safe haven for the most innocent creatures among us. He thought he found it in Pasco County, a location where memories of wagging tails and unconditional love should go undisturbed.
Oakcrest Pet Cemetery in Land O’ Lakes has a beautiful landscape, with winding trails and tall trees to provide shade. However, the cemetery promising peace has now morphed into a disrespectful disaster, according to the doctor. His dream to honor these animals has morphed into a nightmare. The lasting legacy of Muffin, Hank and Echo has been tainted, Kurtzman says.
Kurtzman can’t even find the burial plot for Hank. A grave marker paying sweet tribute to Hank, with a heartfelt memorial message etched into the stone, is gone, possibly stolen. The county confirms there has been vandalism within the cemetery. Meanwhile, the headstones for Kurtzman’s other pets were hidden beneath the earth’s surface. The only true burial here, it seems, is under leaves.
The grave sites of the animals he loved dearly are in shambles.
“Emotionally, I just couldn’t believe that people would let this happen I don’t understand it. We wanted to make a beautiful place for our animals. We wanted to tranquil place, where we could come and be with them. Then, this happens,” he said.
Kurtzman reached out to the Pasco County Parks and Recreation. The overgrown nature of the pet cemetery was corrected a bit, but is still not good enough, Kurtzman said. “I can’t believe they let it get like this,” he added. “We just want something done. We want this to be a beautiful place.”
Pasco County spokesman Doug Tobin admitted the county needs to improve the cemetery.
“We need to do a better job. Pasco County Parks has been mowing during the summer months once a week. We realize that there are areas that we need to work on, such as replacing landscape timbers and removing some unhealthy shrubbery and trees limbs,” Tobin said. “We have faced a lot of budget cuts. This is one of the areas that is first to go when it comes to finances.”
He asked 8 On Your Side for help getting the word out to the public that the county needs assistance revamping the pet cemetery.
“With budget cuts, we are limited in what we can do. We would love to get civic groups, volunteer organizations, like the Boy Scouts, to volunteer. The cemetery just needs some TLC,” Tobin said.
At the end of it all, Kurtzman just wants a beautiful landscape in which to honor his pets. He refuses to let this final resting place for the littlest of lives lose respect.