Pet cemetery offers final resting place for animals

Pet ceme­tery offers final rest­ing place for beloved animals

Hins­dale Ani­mal Ceme­tery lets humans memo­ri­al­ize their furry (and scaly) companions

     

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About once a month, Carl and Ann Christoff visit the ceme­tery where Mindy and But­tons are buried.

 

As Carl clips and sweeps grass around their graves, his wife uses vine­gar to wash bird drop­pings off the mar­ble head­stones. Before they go, they leave dec­o­ra­tions: flow­ers, an angel statue or a small Christ­mas tree.

This is no ordi­nary bur­ial ground. Mindy and But­tons, two Shih Tzus who died in 1990 and 2005, are among more than 15,000 pets — includ­ing dogs, cats, deer, lizards, tur­tles, rodents, mon­keys and a 3-foot shark — buried in Hins­dale Ani­mal Ceme­tery in Wil­low­brook, one of the nation’s oldest.

To the Christoffs, of Oak Brook, these were no ordi­nary pets.

At one time, every one of the ani­mals meant so much and brought so much joy into one’s life,” Ann Christoff said.

Just how much they meant to their own­ers is evi­dent from the epi­taphs. “Our­Dear Pet,” “Gen­tle Giant” and “Loyal Friend” are com­mon head­stone inscrip­tions. A mau­soleum adorned with a dog sculp­ture reads: “He gave up his life that a human might live. Greater love hath no man.”

You walk through and read the inscrip­tions on the head­stones and some will make you laugh, some will make you cry and some will make you think,“said Bill Remkus, whose fam­ily has owned the ceme­tery for four­gen­er­a­tions. “You can almost under­stand the story.”

MichaelSchaf­fer, author of the book “One Nation Under Dog,” said he has noticed the mes­sages on pet epi­taphs have evolved over time, reflect­ing how many peo­ple have pro­moted their pets to “full-fledged mem­bers ofthe family.”

If you visit old pet ceme­ter­ies, the old­est head­stones might say ‘Here lies Fido, a loyal ser­vant,’ or ‘Here lies­Fido, man’s best friend,’” said Schaf­fer. “Nowa­days it’s ‘My lit­tle girl,’ or ‘Mommy and Daddy miss you.’ Peo­ple have devel­oped a con­cep­tion of their pets as chil­dren. That is quite a dra­matic development.”

Remkus said he did not think the feel­ings peo­ple have for their pets have changed, but instead, mod­ern soci­ety has become more accept­ing of peo­ple who love their pets and con­sider them family.

Years ago, if you buried your pet in a pet ceme­tery it would be seen as eccen­tric,” he said. “That’s not how it’s seen­to­day. Now it is just another way to memorialize.”

Hins­dale is not a celebrity pet ceme­tery, although guide dogs for blind author Ber­nice Clifton of Oak Park, who died in 1985, are buried here. Rather,the ceme­tery that began in 1926 is a memo­r­ial to many pets who faith­fully serve their owners.

The ceme­tery offers a vari­ety of funeral pack­ages. For about $50, pet own­ers can pur­chase a “memo­ri­al­cre­ma­tion” — in which a pet’s ashes are mixed with those of other pets and scat­tered across the ceme­tery grounds. For about $2,000, they can buy an oak cas­ket with a vault and mar­ble headstone.

Despite the reces­sion, busi­ness at Hins­dale Ani­mal Ceme­tery has remained steady, although Remkus’ son, Jonathan, has noticed more “memo­r­ial cre­ma­tions,” which he said are “a more eco­nom­i­cal way for a pet to still be taken care of in a rev­er­ent manner.”

Still, when it comes to find­ing a proper bur­ial for man’s best friend, money is usu­ally not a factor.

Peo­ple who are going to take care of their pets are going to do so, whether or not they are employed or unem­ployed,” Jonathan Remkus said.

Or if they just spent more than $7,000 on med­ical bills try­ing to save their pet’s life, as Ernie Yamich did this sum­mer. Despite the high­costs of send­ing Bog­art, his 11-year-old Ger­man shep­herd, to theemer­gency room, Yamich said he did not think twice about spending$2,100 on funeral arrange­ments for “my first born.”

He was our baby,” said Yamich, 30, a heavy equip­ment oper­a­tor in Chicago. “You wouldn’t do any less to a human, even in a recession.”

While some own­ers are con­tent to sim­ply bury their pets at the cemetery,others go fur­ther. Sev­eral peo­ple have been buried with their pets at Hins­dale Ani­mal Ceme­tery. And a few peo­ple who did not have pets buried there sim­ply chose the ceme­tery as their final rest­ing place “because they felt it was a happy place,” Jonathan Remkus said.

Carol Szabo of Napervillespent $160 for a pri­vate cre­ma­tion to ensure the ashes she received belonged to Teddy, her uncle’s beloved Shih-Tzu. Her fam­ily planned tomix Teddy’s remains with those of her uncle, Ray­mond Beranek, who diedrecently, then bury them at St. Casimir Catholic Ceme­tery in Chicago.

I’m try­ing to do right by my uncle and do right by the dog,” she said.

Some­times, it is eas­ier to do so for the dog, like when it comes to ceme­tery main­te­nance, some own­ers say. When Joyce Koziel of Frank­fort vis­ited her grand­par­ents’ graves this sum­mer in Alsip, her brother had to use a weed whacker to uncover their grave­stones, she said.

On the other hand, the graves of her Labrador and a Labrador/terrier mix,Sweetness and Bran­don, are in immac­u­late shape at Hins­dale Ani­mal­Ceme­tery, she said.

What gets me a lit­tle angry is the pet ceme­tery is in bet­ter shape than where my fam­ily is buried,” she said.

While the own­ers of Hins­dale Ani­mal Ceme­tery can be cred­ited for this, the pris­tine con­di­tion of many head­stones also may be due to reg­u­lar vis­its­from peo­ple like the Christoffs, who view wash­ing the head­stones of But­tons and Mindy as a way of giv­ing thanks.

This is the reward they get from their own­ers for being great com­pan­ions,” Ann Christoff said.

gfsmith@tribune.com

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One Response to Pet cemetery offers final resting place for animals

  1. Heaven will be no heaven to me if I do not meet my wife there.

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