MOUNT GREENWOOD — Atop a hill at the Mount Greenwood Cemetery is an ornate headstone and matching bench commemorating the life of Dan "The Cat Man" Chaplick and his 29 cats.
Only Chaplick isn't dead.
Chaplick, 67, of Mount Greenwood, bought the headstone 10 years ago. It features a self-portrait, a large cross adorned with engravings of his cats, as well as the names of beloved house pets that have preceded him in death.
The names of his cats that have died since he bought the stone — and any others who die before Chaplick passes on — they eventually will be added as well.
"This way I can go out the way I want to. I don't have to be a burden. Plus it was fun to think it up," Chaplick said while sipping coffee last week.
Chaplick retired from Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation 12 years ago. Today, he operates a licensed foster home for cats from his humble, two-story house at 109th Street and Kedzie Avenue. He owns 17 cats, but he's had as many as 35 felines living in his house at once.
"There's no limit on the number of cats in the city of Chicago," Chaplick said. "Plus, my cats are treated better than most people treat their kids."
Indeed, Chaplick's passion for his pets goes beyond a headstone. His custom license plate reads "Cat Man." He wears a gold pendant and matching ring both made to look like a cat's face with green jewels for eyes.
The bachelor's body is also riddled with scratches from his cats. Portrait tattoos of his favorite four-legged friends cover up some of the damage. And every one of The Cat Man's feline friends has a story.
Frank is featured in the Animal Welfare League's 2014 calendar. He was sliced from ear to ear when Chaplick took him in. Mama Kitty had a belly full of tumors along with a belly full of kittens when Chaplick found her. Gracie is missing 1½ legs.
By the time he's ready to occupy his space at the cemetery, Chaplick knows a few more names will have to be added to his headstone. His deceased feline friends have all been cremated, and their ashes will be buried with him.
And yet amid all the feline frenzy of Chaplick's life, he never forgot his first pet — a dog. The last name listed on his headstone commemorates "my childhood dog 'Lady.'"
"I have no regrets," Chaplick said.