In many homes, pets are part of the family. So it should be no surprise that when they die, they often leave a void and a lasting memory.
Many people choose to preserve that memory with a marked grave. At the Hinsdale Animal Cemetery, more than 20,000 pets have been buried since 1926.
“A lot of people want to know where their pet’s final resting place is,” said owner Bill Remkus. “That brings comfort to a lot of people. They want a place they can come and remember their pet.”
Walking through the grounds, southwest of 63rd Street and Clarendon Hills Road in Willowbrook, visitors see heartfelt messages engraved on the tombstones:
“Snowball, heaven reward you for the love and joy you gave us.”
“Dear gentle friend, until we meet again.”
“Mick, a golden retriever, may he always have fun in the golden sun.”
“Shorty, our best pal who came from the street and into our hearts.”
Many of the markers have ceramic photos of the pet on them.
Often, one headstone is used to mark the graves of more than one pet. One reads, “Duke followed Bandit everywhere, even to this grave.” Many tombstones bear the family’s name and the years the pet lived, but some are very simple, with just the dog’s name on it.
For burials, caskets from pine boxes to hardwood coffins with a vault, costing more than $1,000, are available.
Remkus’ parents and grandparents bought the cemetery in 1950. His father owned a grocery store in Englewood and continued to run it and live in Chicago until 1954. The family then relocated to Willowbrook. The cemetery was about 5 acres then.
“We have added property over the years, and now it’s about 12 acres,” Remkus said.
Families may arrange a graveside service, if they want one.
“It’s always good to have some form of ritual because it helps with the healing process,” Remkus said. “From time to time, we have had clergy out.”
But more often, family members say kind words about the pet, especially when there are young children.
“It may be the child’s first experience with death,” Remkus said.
He said they have done burials and cremations for animals as small as hamsters and as large as horses.
For people who want to keep their animal’s ashes, it’s important the pet is placed in the crematory alone. Remkus warns there are a lot of “cheats” out there, who return ashes to a family that may or may not be from their pet. If the pet was cremated with other animals, the ashes will be mixed together.
“There’s no way to separate them,” Remkus said. “They’re not giving people what they pay for.”
For people who want to be sure they receive the ashes of their pet alone, Hinsdale Cemetery has a viewing window from which a person can see the empty crematory, and watch as their pet’s body is placed inside. They can wait for the incineration to finish and leave with their pet’s ashes that day.
“We probably average about four attended cremations a day,” Remkus said.
After a private cremation, the ashes may be saved in an urn, scattered or buried.
When the cemetery does cremations of several pets at once, the communal ashes are mixed with a product to create an organic mixture that is scattered on the cemetery grounds.
“With some of these disposal services, the ashes end up in a landfill,” Remkus said. “No care is given to them. I just don’t think that is right. We want to provide more dignified services for our customers.”
Pet owners appreciate the care and sensitivity the cemetery staff provides.
“We hear that from people everyday,” Remkus said. “They are so thankful to know their pets’ final resting place.”
A place to remember pets
Name: Hinsdale Animal Cemetery and Crematory
Where: 6400 S. Bentlley Ave., Willowbrook
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday