STROCKBRIDGE, Mich. — Phil Weitlauf and his wife Barbara are both from Stockbridge.
Phil graduated from Stockbridge High School in 1960, and about a year later he joined the army.
Apart from being a veteran, Phil has another legacy: a pet cemetery in Lyon Charter Township. But, it isn't just any pet cemetery. No, the Michigan War Dog Memorial is one of only two cemeteries within the United States dedicated to K9s that have served our country.
"These K9s are veterans just like myself. They're a veteran," Phil said.
He has loved dogs his whole life, especially German Shepherds, and by 2011 he was searching for something to keep him busy post-retirement.
"I heard about this abandoned pet cemetery," Phil said. "So I took my trusted German Shepherd, Cody at that time — God bless her she's no longer with us. We went for a ride to check it out."
The cemetery was abandoned in 1985, which meant zero upkeep for more than 20 years.
"So I stood around, I looked at it and I turn — and I'm talking to my dog now — I said, 'Cody...somebody 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 his mind.
"I said, 'Weitlauf, why don't you do something about it?'" Phil said. "I said, 'Let's go clean that place up.'"
So, he did. Phil got ahold of his veteran buddies and K9 supporters and got to work. It took them two years.
"Then we got permission to do interments," Phil said. "Kind of like the grandfather clause, it was already a cemetery. So, we established at that time we would do military dogs and law enforcement."
Though 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. "Nobody gets paid anything doing what we do."
So why do they do it?
"I want to make sure that these dogs who sacrifice themselves, who service every day, that when their time comes, that they have a final resting place with honors," Phil said. "That's what we do."
Captain Gordon Morse is a retired Dearborn police officer. After a decade together, his K9, a German Shepherd named Worf, passed away in September.
"I was so blown away by, not only everything that they did for me at the funeral in honor of Worf, but the amount of people that showed up" Morse said.
He said a lot of his friends and family showed up, but a lot of volunteers did, too.
"The war dog memorial also just had so many volunteers that were there, each of them doing something different," Morse said. "All of them spending time on their own to give this beautiful ceremony at no cost to the handler, it's just absolutely amazing. All my family and loved ones that went called me afterwards and they were just, 'We cannot believe how awesome that was.'"
Since it opened in 2013, 55 K9s from across the country have been buried at the Lyon Charter Township cemetery.