January 25, 1976
Snow-covered .graves and plastic flowers
By LOIS JOSIMOVICH
"ACTUALLY, when your body's
dead, it's dead. Whatever lives
on isn't going to matter, really."
Esther Mathia absently fondled
a purring, chocolate Siamese cat
that lay basking i her lap. A
small gray poodle and an equally
diminutive black dachshund dash-
ed across the kitchen floor and
flopped, wrestling, into a low wick-
She continued, "But to me it's
more of a sacred thing, I Just feel
about my pets the way I would
about anyone that's dead."
Esther shows her sensibility to-
ward animals in a rather unique
She and her husband, Horst, own
and run a pet cemetery,
The "Country Pet Cemetery" one
of only three such establishments
In the tri-county area, became
theirs a year after that lucky day
in October 1974, when the Mathias
won $50,000 in the Michigan lot-
"WE FELT ALMOST numb for a
while," recalls Esther. "We
went to our kids' house, bought a
bottle of booze!"
The cemetery, house and -board-
ing kennels lie on the verge of an
11 acre lot in Milan, about eight or
nine miles from An'n Arbor on
The snow lies drifted knee-high
across the graveyard. Flat and
white ag an eiderdown, the field
stretches out to the horizon, brok-
en hereeand there by clumps of
A few red plastic flowers droop
in the snow, marking the other-
wise invisible graves where be-
reaved dog owners return regular-
ly to pay respects to their animal
"I really understand how they
feel," said Esther. "The last time
one of mine died I couldn't talk to
anyone for two weeks."
THIS SYMPATHY was one of the
reasons that led the Mathias
to buy the cemetery. It had been
open since 1971, but the two wom-
en who owned it before them had
to close it for "health reasons," ac-
cording to Horst.
The couple say they can put on
a less expensive funeral than most.
"There's a lot of ways to make
money," shrugged Esther. "But
people can't afford to pay a hun-
dred and some for a funeral, you
know. We can fix 'em up real
The average funeral - including
hand-crafted wooden casket, num-
bered lot, a marker or stone en-
graved by Horst, flowers, and the
extra care the Mathias take to
dress up the coffins with padding
and pillows - runs about 60 or 70
There are also more expensive
arrangements which might include
a "deluxe" casket lined with satin
or lace. These can cost up to
about $150, Esther explained, still
caressing the long-whiskered Sia-
mese in her lap.
"RUT WE HAVEN'T had much
call for those around here,"
A slightly-built woman, Esther
has shoulder-length, mahogany
hair that curls over her hollow
face in bangs. Frequent smiles
cause her brown eyes to crinkle up
at the corners, behind a pair of
Her voice is deep and pleasant,
perhaps from almost continuous
smoking. Horst smokes as well, and
an ashtray on the kitchen table is
overflowing with butts.
"I tried to quit once for a while,"
she said, taking another drag with
trembling fingers. "I had to smoke
again in a month and a half."
The Mathias' simple life style Is
shown by the clothes they wear -
comfortable shirts and corduroy
pants tucked into rubber boots.
The house is modestly furnished as
Horst relaxed back into his
straight - backed kitchen chair,
hands tucked into his waistband
and boots rhythmically thumping
the floor. Sharp blue-gray eyes
narrowed in his sun-reddened face
as he turned to the pets still play-
ing on the floor. His normally seri-
nu demannor vanishe-and nhe
straight brown hair and a cigarette
hung from his lip.
SUDDENLY, a riot of barking and
yelping mysteriously erupted
from one side of the otherwise
"Cool it, you guys, shouted Es-
ther to the invisible melee. The din
"We have an intercom system
with the kennels over there," she
explained, indicating the location
of the tidy prefab some distance
behind the house. "The dogs uual-
ly listen to us.
"We reverse it and play music to
them at night, Horst added.
"We more or less listen to them
24 hours a day. If there's any com-
motion, people could, ah . . . ex-
The phone was ringing. Horst
picked it up and began speaking to
a granddaughter, while Esther
talked about their children.
"WJELL, IT'S LIKE this," she said
a little shyly. "I have three and he
has three. We were married in lat-
er years." But now they devote
their energies to their often spora-
"Well, sometimes we'll' get a lot
of calls, and then for a- week we
might not get any," said Esther,
adding, "It just seems to go that
way, I don't know why."
Since October they have buried
seven or eight dogs in the field.
Business for the kennels is much
"Right now we can board about
60 dogs and cats," said Horst. The
reasons people board them range
from vacations to stays in the hos-
"This Christmas, why we must
have turned 30 away."
Most of the pet owners bring
their dogs over to be given "basic
obedience training" by Horst. The
couple has been practicing this
trade together since they were
caretakers of the AAA Dog and Cat
Cemetery in Taylor.
"flOGS ARE LIKE people," Horst
explained. "They have different
temperaments, so you can't train
them all alike. It takes a lot of pa-
tience, a lot of know-how, and you
The burial prcedure is simple.
"It's not a religious service of any
kind, it's very short," said Horst.
"Silent prayer maybe, then we re-
peat this verse -'
'All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise andcwonderful,
The Lord God made them all."'
"It's really when we start filling
in the grave that they start to
burst out and cry," he added.
"And also when they call to say
their pet died, they start crying,
and they say, " Well, I suppose you
think I'm being silly,"' said Esther.
"Well I don't think they're silly a
PEOPLE BURY THEIR dogs and
other pets in cemeteries "they
want to be able to visit the graves,
they want to know it (the pet)
is getting a dignified burial," say
"You take someone who's Owned
' a dog for 10 or 15 years, they aren't
-going to want to throw it away,"
"But the National Association of
Pet Cemeteries says that only one
per cent of pets that die get buried
in cemeteries-most end up in gar-
bage cans," said Horst briefly.
tempt to bury them in their back
yards, but right now I'd like to see
you try to dig a hole."
Other people take pets to be cre-
mated at the Humane Society, he
says, and "that's better, than
throwing them in a garbage bag or
Esther terms cemetery burial for
pets a "luxury business" based on
her own impressions of what Is
"pERSONALLY, I would prefer
it," she asserted, "although I
can see why some people would
prefer cremation just like they
would for themselves. Myself, I
prefer to know that even if there
are only bones left, they're still
my dog's bones."
The Mathias remember all the
pets they have trainedand buried,
particularly a dog named Jim-jim
which is now in the Taylor ceme-
"I didn't even know he had died
until I saw it in the paper," said
Esther quietly. "I said, 'oh my God,
is that Jim-jim Day that we
"Sure enough, it was. I cried,
'cause the finest people had owned
it. I ran around the house real
quick and made the cutest little
coverlet, and we put a ribbon
across, and wrote "Jim-jim" on it
in sparkles. Anything to make
those people feel better.
Esther Mathia and her dog Pe ey
Lois Josimivich is a Daily Day Editor.
"Some people make a weak at- See COUNTRY, Page 5
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