Dogs are truly a special animal, manâs best friend.
Over the years, canines have made their mark both on the battlefield and in civil service, assisting police andfire. But what happens when such honored and loyal companions pass away?There are two major war dog memorial sites, including one right here in Southeast Michigan.
Philip Weitlauf has been behind the continued honoring of these beloved pets and servants that have saved thousands and thousands of lives over the years. Military dogs were trained in special areas such as finding explosives, booby trap, security, messenger and scout dogs leading patrol.They can detect the enemy from over 200 yards away. Dating back to 1943 in Guam, dogs appeared in the war.The casualty rating dropped 70 percent after their arrival.
The Spinal Column caught up with Weitlauf to learn more about the memorial.
Hi, Mr. Weitlauf. Where are you from originally?
âI was born in Huntsville, Alabama.â
Really? Iâm from Mississippi. How did you end up in Michigan?
âI had no choice, my parents moved up here (laughing.) I came up here when I was about five years old. I went to high school in Stockbridge, near Lansing. I didnât go to college, I went into the Army and spent my training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I was in the Army; two years active and four years in reserve. I was discharged in 1968.â
You came back to Michigan and started working?
âYes, I did and then I was promoted into sales and worked for 39 years. I retired about eight years ago, and thatâs about the time I discovered the abandoned pet cemetery in South Lyon, at the corner of 11 Mile and Milford Road. I formed a detail with a band of military veterans and K-9 supporters. I said, âLetâs clean this thing up.â Then we went from clean-up to restoration. In 2012, we renamed it the Michigan War Dog Memorial with the idea that we would inter military working dogs.â
âThen we went from restoration to the next level of beautification, that we would have a park setting. Iâm pleased to announce we have achieved that goal.â
What is the Michigan War Dog Memorial all about?
âItâs a place where we honor K-9s who honor and protect us. They will have a ceremonial burial when their time comes.â
Is it exclusive to military dogs?
âNo, we opened it up. We do military dogs that basically saved thousands of lives on the battlefields, and law enforcement dogs that protect their partner in our communities. We also honor search and rescue dogs that find our lost children and seniors who become confused; service dogs that give the handicapped more independence; therapy dogs that comfort the sick and elderly; and companion dogs who give soldiers with symptoms of PTSD a sense of security. These are the dogs we honor.â
How big is the cemetery?
âItâs two acres. The pet cemetery portion of it was established in 1936 and they pretty much abandoned it in the mid â80s, but they had interned 2,150 pets. Then they stopped the internments and there was 25 years of growth when we found it. You can imagine how much work went into cleaning it up.â
Was it city or government property?
âNo, this was private property. We have had no government assistance, just local residents and corporations who stepped up, not only financially, but giving of their services. A good example is the Green Industrial Society that has about 90 landscapers in their organization. They put in over $65,000 worth of landscaping for us at no cost. People love their dogs. Weâve had no problems with fundraising. Last year, we erected the Vietnam K-9 Memorial Wall. During the Vietnam War, at the tail end of it, when the troops pulled out, the government left the dogs and euthanized them. They canât do that anymore, there are laws in place. We wanted to recognize those dogs for their sacrifice and service. There were 4,234 dogs that were left. We erected that black granite wall and all 4,234 dogs with their number are on that wall. That was erected last year. That is the only one in the nation. No one has been able to do it because they didnât have the names.â
Do you conduct any special services at the cemetery?
âYes, we started with the military dog and I called the (United States) Department of Defense to see if there was a procedure to bury a military dog, because the military has a procedure for everything, but they leave it up the handler. We decided to set up our own procedure.â
âWe have a bagpiper, a full honor guard, eight German Shepherds that escort the remains to the Table of Honor, and we have a colonel in the Air Force that reads the invocation. I usually read the bio. The handler makes the choice and can do it, but it is usually too emotional. Then we present the handler with the American Flag. We play taps and Amazing Grace on the bagpipe, and the German Shepherds howl on command and give a canine salute in a semi-circle at the Table of Honor and howl for 30 seconds. We have anywhere from 200 to 400 people show up.â
Are any burials coming up?
âWe had a burial on September 1 for the Troy firehouse dog. We had the full ceremony. Weâve been doing the internments for four years, and so far weâve interned 19 service dogs.â
When you were in the Army were you around service dogs?
âI was not a handler and I never saw one, but it was more afterwards when I retired and was sitting at the VFW when a couple of handlers came in and told their stories. I got involved, having raised dogs all of my life. I never envisioned this to turn out the way it did. Our mission at first was just to clean it up.â
âThe dogâs whole mission was saving lives, itâs no different from a soldier who specializes. It takes about three months to train the dogs. There are 2,800 active military dog teams scattered about the world. They are still fighting in Afghanistan, working with security and they are all out there right now.â
âI donât have time for anything else. I love these dogs. They spend their entire life servicing. We need to show some respect to them. Iâve always had a dog. The last 20 years, Iâve always had German Shepherds â Ziva (eight) and Tess (eight months old.)â
To learn more, visit www.mwdm.org.