Cimetiere des Chiens

It’s Halloween, and nothing says spooky like a graveyard. And, in the tradition of Stephen King, the scariest graveyard is the pet cemetery. Or is it?

If you seek proof that pets live on after death, you can find it etched in stone at a narrow strip of land overlooking the Seine River on the outskirts of Paris. Chipped statuary, faded lettering and newer monuments to pets now passed mark the Cimetiere des Chiens, the world’s first public pet cemetery. But rather than calling up terrifying images of reanimated pet corpses, this peaceful park has been the final resting place of dogs, cats, bunnies and other animals since it was founded in 1899, and headstone inscriptions bear mute witness to the grief their people felt at their loss.


Ici repose Love.

Missing you Bunga.

Resting in Peace

Humans have buried pets with ritual, and no doubt regret, for millennia. In a study published last year in the online journal Plos One, Russian, European and American researchers found that hunter-gatherer societies in eastern Siberia buried dogs with tokens of affection or in ways that suggested a special bond with them. “One dog skeleton was laid to rest in a sleeping position; others were buried with small ornaments or implements, some resembling toys," wrote the study’s authors. "One man was buried with two dogs laid on either side of him, while another dog was placed in his grave wearing a necklace fashioned from four deer’s teeth.”

A stroll through a pet cemetery offers an interesting glimpse into the lives of pets and their people — and at the timelessness of the human-animal bond. For a fee of about $4.50 for adults and $2 for children, visitors can spend an afternoon touring the Cimetiere des Chiens. Famed canine actor Rin Tin Tin, French by birth, is buried in the cemetery, as is Barry, a Saint Bernard renowned for saving 40 lives, who gave his own in an attempt to save a 41st person.

Pets don’t have to be famous or heroic, though, to warrant a spot in the Cimetiere des Chiens. Headstones memorialize Yorkshire Terrier Melanie; Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Rumba and Cindy; a Siamese cat aptly named My Lord; dogs named Rex, Boy, Mister, Willy and Leo; and gray Persian cats Pacha and Darius. 

A Resting Place for All

A pet cemetery is a democratic space. Sharing the grounds at the Cimetiere des Chiens are Drac (1941-1953), the beloved dog of Princess Elisabeth of Romania; Sully, who belonged to the Comte and Comtesse Alexandre Dumas; Marquise and Tony, the dogs of Princess Lobanof; show dogs such as those described as “les premiers Komondors de France, celebres champions nationaux, internationaux et mondiaux” (roughly translated: the best Komondors in France, famous national, international and world champions); as well as the pets of more anonymous people, who left records only of their animals’ names and years of life, sometimes accompanied by pictures.

And it’s not just dogs that are buried with honors: A crypt for Mimi at Cimetiere des Chiens has three cat-shaped openings, no doubt so the little ghost cat can flit in and out without needing someone to open a door for her. Admirers leave dog treats on Rin Tin Tin’s grave, and fresh flowers and live plants decorate many of the sites, placed by visiting pet owners and the cemetery’s caretakers.

Visitors to the Cimetiere des Chiens include animals as well as humans: Feral cats nap on headstones or wend their way along the paths. A small building with a cat door provides them with shelter and food, and a fountain dispenses water.

Resting Places in the United States

If Paris isn’t on your itinerary, you can likely visit a pet cemetery closer to home, including some that are historic. The Presidio, in San Francisco, is the only U.S. national park with a pet cemetery, although burials no longer take place there. At rest are the pets of officers and enlisted personnel who were stationed at the former military base. On the markers are such epitaphs as “A GI pet. He did his time,” and “Hula-Girl: We know love, we had this little dog.” Admission to the cemetery is included in park admission.

Hartsdale pet cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, was founded in 1896. It is the oldest pet cemetery still in operation in the United States. More than 80,000 animals are buried there, and the cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is open to visitors free of charge. In addition, Hartsdale still offers cremation and burial services for pets. 

Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard

Ghosts of Hunts Past

Though Cimetiere des Chiens and other pet cemeteries welcome pets of any kind, some are restricted to specific types of dogs. Coonhound aficionados may wish to make a pilgrimage to the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard in northwest Alabama. More than 185 coon dogs are buried there: Preacher, Smoky, Night Ranger, Hunter’s Famous Amos. Some are world champions; others, well, their epitaphs speak for them: “He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.” A celebration of their lives takes place at the cemetery each Labor Day.

To qualify for burial at Key Underwood, the owner and a witness must claim that the dog to be buried is an authentic coon dog, and a member of the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard must be allowed to view the coonhound and confirm that he is one.

At Di-Lane, a former plantation in Waynesboro, Georgia, that is now part of a public wildlife area, approximately 100 bird dogs are laid to rest beneath mossy oaks. Headstones memorialize Mary Mischief, Wrangler Sam (“almost great”), Tipsy, Black Fury, Georgia Whiskey, Lucky Lady and Greenwood Bob. At night, if you listen closely, you might hear the echoes of their barks. The cemetery is open to visitors but no longer allows burials.

A visit to a pet cemetery is sometimes a little sad, knowing that for long-gone pets, no one is left who remembers them. But as long as people stop by and wonder about them, the pets and their people live on.

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