Sunday, August 24 2014 12:56 AM EDT2014-08-24 04:56:42 GMT
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HARRIMAN (WATE) - Clean up is underway at a local pet crematory after state officials found animals were being buried on the property instead of cremated.
Elliott Pet Services is operated out of a home in Harriman near the Morgan and Roane County line.
For the second day in a row, investigators with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation were on the property, digging up the animal remains found there and trying to find out exactly why they were buried there in the first place.
The District Attorney's office says at least three large pits, about four feet deep each, were filled with pet remains, primarily dogs.
The remains were removed Wednesday using dump trucks.
Workers had to wear breathing masks to deal with the heavy decomposition smell.
TDEC began its investigation into Elliott's back in September after neighbors complained of smelling decomposition coming from the property.
Upon their first inspection, TDEC spokesperson Kelly Brockman says the owner of the cremation business, Cameo Farr, told them her incinerator had stopped working so she had begun burying the animals on the site.
TDEC issued several violation notices and ordered her to stop all animal disposal. With her permission, TDEC began removal of the remains this week.
TDEC's investigation is ongoing. They're treating the site as a solid waste issue in an unpermitted landfill.
Farr's attorney says she wasn't doing anything wrong.
Attorney Kevin Angel says Farr's incinerator did go out back in the summer, but just for a few days. He says it was quickly fixed, inspected and approved.
Angel says cremations continued, but so did Farr's business of public disposals.
Farr says people paid her to bury their animals on her property.
"The ones that were being buried out there, people knew they were being buried out there. They were clients," said Angel.
Angel says state law permits Farr to do that.
"There are guidelines as to how quickly they have to be buried and how deep they have to be buried and Ms. Farr follows those," said Angel.
Farr says none of the animals found buried in the pits were ones that were supposed to be cremated.
"No dogs were buried because the incinerator was out. They were buried because that was the agreement Ms. Farr had with those people," said Angel. "Ms. Farr would guarantee that anybody that paid her to cremate their animal, their animal was in fact cremated."
However, local pet owners who have had pets cremated at Elliott Pet Services want to know for sure.
Owners like Andrea Sandoz from Harriman want to know if the pets they thought they had cremated and delivered back to them were actually cremated or not.
Sandoz has had four animals cremated by Elliott Pet Services in the last six years.
She got the most recent one back, their beloved family pet Moon, just two weeks ago.
Sandoz says the process took longer this time, and the results were vastly different.
She says the box the ashes came in, along with the name plate and keepsake paw print were the same.
However Moon's remains weighed significantly less than the ones she's received for other pets in years past.
"I said to her 'Wow, she's awfully light.' She said sometimes maybe not all the bone fragments may be in there but for the majority this is Moon as a whole," said Sandoz, speaking of Farr.
She looked in the box and was shocked at what she found.
"The fur matches Moon but the ashes and the weight of the ashes does not add up to my pet," said Sandoz. "What I have is not Moon."
Sandoz wants to know what's really in the cremation box and where Moon, the dog her family rescued from the street, really ended up.
"We gave her the home that we gave her, and to know that she was just put in a ditch. She's ended up the same way we found her," said Sandoz.
Farr's attorney says she is adamant that all cremations were completed as normal.
TDEC says the animal remains are being taken to Chestnut Ridge Landfill in Heiskell.
They say most of the animals found on the property have been buried for up to a year or more, and that there are no records for where the animals came from.
They say the condition they're in makes them impossible to identify.
The DA's office says it will look into possible charges once TDEC wraps up its investigation.