When Tami Mitchell visited her grandson's grave at Missoula Municipal Cemetery in January, she was horrified to witness a free-roaming dog defecating near the tombstones.
"I was just dumbfounded," Mitchell recalls. "I just couldn't believe that someone (who owns a dog) would be that thoughtless."
Feb. 8 marked the three-year anniversary of Mitchell's 18-month-old grandson's death. She still brings flowers to his burial site monthly and in the winter makes a point to clear snow from his grave.
Five generations of Mitchell's family are buried at the city cemetery, and she considers the Northside location sacred ground. Her outrage at seeing the site "desecrated" prompted her to complain immediately to cemetery staff. Mitchell says that though employees were sympathetic, they said there was nothing they could do.
Unsatisfied with that response, Mitchell and her husband, Bill, asked the Missoula City Council to intervene. Tami feared she couldn't keep her composure, so Bill testified before council on her behalf, challenging lawmakers to take a stand. "I want to know right now," he said, "that the city council and the mayor of Missoula think that it's okay to use our loved one's last resting place as a toilet for their dogs."
Bill's emotional testimony prompted Councilman Ed Childers to address the issue in a committee meeting this week. Childers noted in his referral to council that the Mitchell's complaint marks the second of its kind in six months.
Existing law requires dogs be leashed while on cemetery grounds and that animal owners pick up waste. City Communications Director Ginny Merriam notes that since the Mitchells raised their concerns, cemetery staffers have posted signs advising dog owners of the rules. Mayor John Engen has also empowered cemetery employees to reel in roaming dogs.
"I believe that the staff now is going to be a little bit more proactive when they see people with dogs off-leash," Merriam says.
Tami Mitchell says that while she appreciates those efforts, the cemetery simply isn't a place for canine companions. That's why she's asking the city to ban them from the graveyard all together.
"I have nothing against animals," she says. "But I feel very strongly about them using the cemetery as a toilet."