This week's Chicagoan: Gary Bloze, owner, Illinois Pet Cemetery
First-person accounts from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford "Illinois Pet Cemetery is the oldest pet cemetery. It's a family-run business, started in 1926 by my grandfather. He got the idea during the first world war, when he saw one in France. He got killed in a car accident in 1930, two weeks before my father was born, while he was out selling a headstone. The steering wheel went through his chest. At the time of his death, he had a pet ambulance service and a pet newspaper, the Pet Lover's Review. He also sold pet insurance.
"My grandmother ran the cemetery from 1930 to 1972, and she made it her life. Her name was Marie C. Bloze. She was a very personable person. She really loved to talk with people. Especially after a death, everybody needs to talk.
"The cemetery is in Hanover Park. We're two miles south of the intersection of Barrington Road and Lake Street. It's about six and a half acres, but we're surrounded by the forest preserve, Hawk Hollow. We bury just about anything. Dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, turtles, ferrets. Years ago they buried fighting roosters.
"We have five, six state police dogs out there. Sometimes people bring their own minister or priest or whatever and conduct a graveside service for the pets. Some famous war dogs were given burials with full military honors. We also have ashes from 40 to 50 people who wanted to be buried with their pets.
"A small grave marker goes for $385. Some people have bought gigantic headstones. They go upwards of a couple thousand dollars. Rich and poor, anybody—we make it possible. We have no-interest payment plans for people who really can't afford the money right away. We offer flowers in the summertime, evergreen blankets in the wintertime. Just about anything people want.
"We're run a little bit different than the other pet cemeteries. We don't have a yearly upkeep charge, where if you don't pay the upkeep after a couple years, they cremate the remains and sprinkle the ashes on the ground. Some cemeteries they make you sign a document, and unless you're a Philadelphia lawyer you really can't understand it.
"From '72 till last year, it was my father and myself running the cemetery. My father just passed away last year. Now I run it. I have a cousin named Karl—he's been my right-hand man. I have friends that come out to help me here and there, but it's usually just Karl and myself, and my wife helps with some of the paperwork.
"When someone calls, we pick up the pet right away, and we make arrangements for the burial. We have to put them in a controlled environment, especially in the summertime. We have to make sure no flies get around them. If the owner can't make it out here—some people are getting elderly—I open the casket or pine box up and I take a picture for them at no charge. Some people like to take a lock of hair, some people like to take a paw print.
"One lady's been coming every week, and her poodle was buried almost 20 years ago. Another lady she said she cried more from losing her pet than from losing her husband. You feel an immediate loss when you lose a pet. People, too. Losing my father, it was quite hard on me. We were best friends. It's still hard to talk about it."