STROCKBRIDGE, Michigan – Phil Weitlauf and his wife Barbara are both from Stockbridge.
Phil graduated from Stockbridge High School in 1960 and about a year later joined the military.
Besides being a veteran, Phil has another legacy: a pet cemetery in the Canton of Lyon Charter. But, this is not just any pet cemetery. No, the Michigan War Dog Memorial is one of only two cemeteries in the United States dedicated to the K9s who have served our country.
“These K9s are veterans like me. They are veterans,” Phil said.
He loved dogs all his life, especially German Shepherds, and in 2011 he was looking for something to occupy him after his retirement.
“I’ve heard of this abandoned animal cemetery,” Phil said. “So I took my trusted German Shepherd, Cody at the time – God bless her, she’s not with us anymore. We went for a walk to check it out.”
The cemetery was abandoned in 1985, requiring no maintenance for over 20 years.
“So I stood there, I looked at him and I turned – and I’m talking to my dog now – I said, ‘Cody … someone should do something about this'”, Phil said. “It’s like, how many times have people said that, you know?” “
Several weeks later, the cemetery was still on her mind.
“I said, ‘Weitlauf, why don’t you do something about this?’” Phil said. “I said, ‘Let’s go clean up this place.'”
So he did. Phil got his hands on his veteran buddies and K9 supporters and got to work. It took them two years.
“Then we got permission to do the burials,” Phil said. “Much like the grandfather clause, it was already a cemetery. So we established at that point that we would make military dogs and law enforcement.”
Although Lyon Charter Township owns the land, Phil and the other volunteers do all the work. A local landscaper even maintains the land for free.
“We’re all volunteers – all of us,” Phil said. “No one gets paid anything by doing what we do.”
So why are they doing it?
“I want to make sure that these dogs that sacrifice themselves, that serve every day, when the time comes, that they have a final home with honors,” Phil said. “This is what we do.”
Captain Gordon Morse is a retired police officer from Dearborn. After a decade together, his K9, a German Shepherd named Worf, passed away in September.
“I was so blown away, not only by how much they did for me at Worf’s funeral, but also by the number of people who showed up,” said Morse.
He said a lot of his friends and family showed up, but a lot of the volunteers did too.
“The Dogs of War Memorial also had so many volunteers who were there, each doing something different,” Morse said. “They all spend time alone to give this beautiful ceremony at no cost to the master, it’s just absolutely amazing. All of my family and loved ones who went called me afterwards and they were just, ‘We can’t. not believe how awesome it was. ‘”
Since its opening in 2013, 55 K9s from across the country have been buried in the Lyon Charter Township cemetery.
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