In last week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, we made mention of Memorial Day being in honor of all those who have died in military service to their country. Since Helpful Buckeye is on the road for a few weeks and won't be able to use up-to-date topics that our readers have enjoyed seeing, I thought you might appreciate a whole issue devoted to cemeteries and memorials for pets.
Now, stop right there, those of you who are thinking, "Here we go with another sequel to Pet Sematary." The best-seller novel by Stephen King and the subsequent movie definitely gave people "the willies" about cemeteries and dead pets.
However, there are more than 600 pet cemeteries in the USA and they are being used at an increasing rate by pet owners who want some type of memorial to their beloved deceased pet. For the purpose of telling a story about pet cemeteries in general, Helpful Buckeye will relate the history of what has been called "one of the best final resting places for a pet," the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, in Hartsdale, NY. Most of the following material was taken from the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery's web site, although I have re-arranged it so that it can be read like a short story. It won't be any longer than one of our regular weekly issues, so sit back with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the "Story of Hartsdale Pet Cemetery."
THE HISTORY OF PET BURIALS
The ritualized burial of animals has been practiced in virtually every part of the world at some point in time. In many societies, it was (and still is) a means of honoring animals who endeared themselves to their human families. Such burials stand as enduring expressions of one's emotional affinity with nonhuman beings, and on a more expansive level, one's sense of spiritual kinship with the natural world at large. Funerary rites for animals celebrate the most enduring of human beliefs-that we share the "next life" with other creatures-just as we do this one. Of all the ancient societies to conduct funerals for animals, Egypt is the best known, thanks to the many elaborately mummified dogs, cats, monkeys and birds that have been recovered by archaeologists in recent times. As early as 1000 B.C., substantial parcels of land along the Nile were set aside expressly for the burial of animals, though it was equally acceptable to inter pets in tombs of their owners. Then, as now, wealthy pet owners spared no expense for their animals' funerals. When a royal guard dog named Abutiu ("With Pointed Ears") died in 2180 B.C., the grieving pharaoh ordered a sarcophagus made for the dog, and that "very much fine cloth, incense and scented oil" be used in the mummification process. It was decreed that Abutiu be interred in his own underground tomb, specially constructed by the royal stone masons, "so that he might become one of the Blessed."Among the most famous ancient dog lovers is Alexander the Great (336 B.C. - 323 B.C.), who owned a large Mastiff-like hound named Peritas. Upon her death, the conqueror led a formal funeral procession to the grave, erected a large stone monument on the site and ordered nearby residents to celebrate her memory in annual festivities. A city by the name still exists in this location.
After centuries of affiliation with the pagan gods of Egypt, Rome and Greece, many animals were subject to persecution in the new Christian era, starting around 700 A.D. Medieval dogs and cats often were accused of being the consorts of witches, or even worse, were Satan incarnate. There was little tolerance for people who cuddled or talked to animals, and even less for the notion of burying pets with the same pomp and ceremony accorded humans. Still, there were a courageous few who argued that animals were entitled to post mortem honors. As one French cleric arranged a formal Christian funeral for his little dog, news of the plan leaked to his supervising bishop, who demanded that he appear before a tribunal to answer charges of heresy. Amazingly, the priest pleaded his innocence and not only succeeded in getting all charges dropped, but humiliated his accuser as well. "You will understand, my Lord, that I was able to put this dog, who was worth much more than a good number of Christians, in a discreet position," he said to the council. "The dog gave me many instances of wisdom in life, and above all in its death! It even wished to leave me its will, at the head of which is the name of the bishop of this diocese, to whom it bequeaths 150 crowns, which I have here for you now.""His attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, his fidelity without deceit,” reads the epitaph of Dash the spaniel, the first and perhaps best-loved dog of Princess Victoria, who as Queen (1837-1901) campaigned aggressively for the establishment of a new humane ethic in English society. Over the course of her long life, vast grounds surrounding Windsor Castle became the final resting place for several beloved horses, one tiny finch, and many dogs, their likenesses immortalized in life-size bronze statues marking the graves.
But in the latter half of the nineteenth century, landless pet owners living in densely populated cities were confronted with two nightmarish options when an animal died: throwing it out with the trash or placing the body in a weighted sack and flinging it into a nearby river (in 1899 alone, three thousand such pets were pulled from the Seine by Paris sanitation crews). A few went so far as to sneak into human cemeteries to bury pets in plots reserved for themselves. One such clandestine funeral took place in 1898 in Columbus, Ohio for a dog named Diana, who laid out in a little white coffin decorated with silver trimmings. "We took carriages at night [to the cemetery], and at the grave recounted the fidelity and true nobility of our canine friend," recalled Mrs. A.J. Chevalier, Diana's owner, who orchestrated the illegal interment with the help of discreet friends. Little wonder then that the establishment of the first public pet cemeteries on the advent of the twentieth century was welcome news to thousands of animal lovers. Founded in 1899 by feminist Marguerite Durand, the dog cemetery at Asnieres lies on a forested river islet near Paris that was already a playground of the middle and professional working class, thereby smoothing its conversion into a charming garden-style resting place for animals. And, of course, there is the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, the oldest and largest of its kind in America. With its beautifully manicured grounds and array of creatively crafted grave markers, Hartsdale is among the "crown jewels" of historic pet cemeteries.
Last rites for Victorian pets could be as formal as any concocted for humans. In 1899 a funeral was conducted at the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery for Major, a highly-trained spaniel said to "sing in three languages," according to his owner. After a period of lying in state wearing a solid gold collar, Major's satin-lined casket, complete with a crystal window in the lid, was draped in flowers and escorted to the cemetery. As a small crowd of friends sang a doxology, he was lowered into the grave. Some deceased pets were photographed on lace-covered pillows, posed as though they were in blissful slumber (it was customary to photograph deceased children in the same manner), and many owners kept locks of their animal's hair in gold lockets or specially designed rings. One English woman who interred her Pomeranian in a double-locked casket in Hyde Park retained and wore the keys on the chain for the duration of her own life.Bible verses, excerpts from Shakespearean plays, poetry by Lord Byron or a simple statement of the owner's own creation were popular epitaphs. "Not one of them is forgotten before God," many stones in Hyde Park solemnly declare. "Drowned in Old Windsor Looch," "Poisoned," "run over" and "pined for his mistress" were heart-wrenching commentaries on tragic ends. Many inscriptions are timeless commentaries on the constancy of animals as compared with people, such as the one found on an elaborate pedestal erected over the grave of a French dog around 1890, which reads "to the memory of my dear Emma--faithful and sole companion of my otherwise rootless and desolate life." On the threshold of the twenty-first century, there are now more than five hundred pet cemeteries in the United States alone. The traditional wooden casket and simple stone marker are still popular (although one Utah-based company now offers "Egyptian-style" mummification for both animals and people). That so many people choose to commemorate the lives of their pets is good news, for it signals a renewed sense of kinship with the natural world, largely inspired by the companion animals who aid and comfort us within the increasingly impersonal confines of our modern society."Who can say that this does not betoken the growth and spread of the humanitarian spirit, [especially] in times that try men's souls," remarked a spokesperson for the Massachusetts SPCA in 1900, upon noting the public's growing interest in funerals for pets. Indeed, that so many people choose to honor the lives of their animals in places like Hartsdale points to a revolution taking place in our concept of ourselves--that we are part of the larger world of animals, not above or separate from it--one pet and person at a time.Want to know more about pet cemeteries??? Written by Mary Thurston
Mary Thurston is a Texas based anthropologist who specializes in the shared history of people and pets. Her book, "The Lost History of the Canine Race: Our Fifteen-Thousand-Year Love Affair with Dogs," was published by Andrews and McMeel in the Fall of 1996. Call your local bookstore, or order directly from Andrews and McMeel (1-800-826-4216). You can contact Mary Thurston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The bond between humans and pets has always been strong. For many of us, our pet is considered a member of the family. When that pet passes away we feel a profound sense of grief. To help alleviate this grief many people seek a meaningful way to memorialize their beloved pet.
In 1896, a prominent New York City veterinarian, Dr. Samuel Johnson, offered his apple orchard in then-rural Hartsdale, New York, to serve as a burial plot for a bereaved friend's dog. That single compassionate act served as the cornerstone for what was to become America's first and most prestigious pet cemetery. Today, over a century later, this beautiful hillside location is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 pets continuing a long history of caring and excellence that is the hallmark of this serene and lovely pet burial ground. Features of Hartsdale include:
It so happened that Dr. Johnson had arranged for himself a style of life common to many people today - he worked in New York City where he maintained a flourishing practice, and he had a retreat in the country in the middle of an apple orchard in the hamlet of Hartsdale, in the town of Greenburgh, Westchester County, New York.
One day in 1896, a distressed client of Dr. Johnson's paid a call to his office with an urgent problem. Her dog had just died and she wanted to give it a proper burial; but there was no way for this to be accomplished legally in the city of New York. The woman had contemplated trying to find a vacant piece of ground in which to bury the dog, but this would have involved a great deal of subterfuge even if it had not been against health department laws. And besides, the land would most surely have been built on sooner or later, for the concrete and steel metropolis was burgeoning in all directions. After considering the problem, the compassionate doctor came up with a solution. If the woman wanted to make the trip up to Hartsdale, he would be pleased to allow her to bury the animal in his apple orchard. The distraught woman gratefully accepted, and made the sad journey to the little hamlet in Westchester. While the woman's name has been lost in the mists of time, and there are no records of the burial and no stone marks its location, we can be certain that her pet is still safe somewhere in the Peaceable Kingdom.
This article spoke of dogs being “laid away with deepest regret and strong affection.’ It also reported that, while the cemetery had started with the burial of dogs, and indeed had – and still has – the word “canine" as part of its name, it was actually open to cats and other animals.
HISTORIC POINTS OF INTEREST
Wandering through the cemetery is taking a journey through one hundred years of history. The monuments and stones vary in size and shape from the humble to the grand, the messages from one word to many in languages familiar and foreign but there is a universality that echoes throughout the ages. As we turn a path, climb a hill, or stand by the cemetery's clear running brook, we discover reflections of history and changing attitudes, affirmations of religious belief and statements of underlying love.
The Oldest Monument-- The cemetery's oldest monument bears the date September 16, 1899. This headstone, placed here just three years after Dr. Johnson's apple orchard began its transformation, is to "Dotty, Beloved Pet of E.M. Dodge, who Died in Her Fourteenth Year."
The inscription reads:
Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial-- Motivated by the heroic efforts of those who assisted in the search for survivors of the disastrous 1995 federal office building bombing in Oklahoma City, the directors and staff of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory installed a memorial marker located near the famous War Dog Memorial, lauding the canines and their trainers who participated in the rescue mission. New York City Police Officer Michael Berg and his German shepherd, Kane, were on hand to receive a plaque honoring their service during this tragedy. Both were involved in the rescue mission. The marker was dedicated on May 28, 1995 in conjunction with the cemetery's annual War Dog Memorial Celebration to honor all pets who have been of service to all humanity.
The monument reads as follows:
FAMOUS PETS BURIED AT HARTSDALE
In their own ways many of Hartsdale's pets also "spoke". With skill and determination they entertained in theaters, on television and in motion pictures, and several earned recognition as champions. Hartsdale also has many heroes and heroines, as well as pets who performed extraordinary feats to help mankind.
"SIRIUS" The only canine to lose his life in the search-and-rescue efforts following the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center Terrorist attacks. Sirius, who was attached to the Port Authority Police Department, was interred here in conjunction with the 2002 War Dog Memorial Celebration.
"ROBBY" The inspiration for the first War Dog Retirement Law was laid to rest here following the 2001 Wag Dog Memorial Celebration. Robby symbolized those dogs who served this nation honorably only to be euthanized and disposed of by the military. The new law makes it possible for former handlers to adopt their former service canines and bring them into civilian life.
SERVICE & WAR DOGS There are many heroes and heroines resting at Hartsdale, and while most of them rarely made headlines their feats of courage command highest recognition and honor. These are the pets who, by instinct, through loyalty and, sometimes training, were prepared to make any sacrifice on our behalf. Dogs Of War-- Someone once wrote that dogs have been used in the field of battle "almost since the beginning of wars, which date is only a few days later than the beginning of time".
Before being sent overseas, dogs were stationed in army camps where they received an intensive twelve-week training period, usually as sentry and patrol "soldiers." Out of the thousands who were "signed up" for duty, seven breeds were found to be most suitable - Belgian shepherds, German shepherds, collies, Airedales, Dobermans, giant schnauzers and Rottweilers.
Many dogs who served our country are represented here at The Peaceable Kingdom. A special ceremony is conducted at the foot of the War Dog Memorial every Memorial Day weekend to pay tribute not only to military dogs, but to all pets of service including dogs who assisted in the in the rescue mission in conjunction with the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1994 as well as guide dogs and police dogs.
"Koehler" Among the dogs of war at Hartsdale is "Koehler" who was donated to the Red Cross at the beginning of World War I by the German family whose name he bore. Koehler served fearlessly in the front lines; his tail was shot off in battle, and he received a decoration for bravery. The plucky dog was returned to the Koehler family at the end of the war, but circumstances did not allow him to settle into his former life.
"Joachim" Joachim, the most recent arrival at Hartsdale from the wars, was only seven weeks old when he was found in his war-torn country by an American lawyer who was serving in the Vietnam War. From the start the homeless puppy won the heart of the American.
A final headstone at the pet cemetery reads: "Sport: Born a dog, died a gentleman."
Helpful Buckeye expects that all of our readers share that final sentiment about their pets.
If you want to read more about the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, their web site is: http://www.petcem.com/index.html
Helpful Buckeye would like to hear comments from any of you, especially those who might have buried your pet in a pet cemetery. You can send an e-mail to: email@example.com or post a comment at the end of this issue.
Lastly, Questions On Dogs and Cats received the following comment after last week's issue on Heat Exhaustion and Traveling With Your Pets: Holly, from Pennsylvania, wrote...
Thank you, Holly, for the kind words!