Dogs in Heaven: Pet Cemeteries, History and Culture

Dogs in Heaven: Pet Cemeteries, History and Culture

Stephen King said of his 1983 book-turned-movie blockbuster, Pet Sematary, that it was his darkest work. Few of his other iconic tales so closely mirrored events from the author’s real life. The novel derives its plot from King’s own experience living near a remote pet cemetery in Orrington, Maine. On a Thanksgiving Day in the late 1970s, King laid to rest his grief-stricken daughter’s cat “Smucky” after it was hit outside of the family’s home. Drawn to the quiet retreat, King often sat in a lawn chair among the makeshift headstones penning the macabre story of pets and people who would become demonically reanimated after burial there.  Pet Sematary.jpg(

To be honest, I didn’t know pet cemeteries actually existed outside of the film until a recent acquaintance mentioned the local abandoned gem near the Columbus regional airport. Turns out, pet cemeteries are fairly common and have been throughout antiquity. Smithsonian Magazine reported the discovery of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian pet cemetery containing roughly 100 carefully preserved cats, dogs, and a few monkeys in 2016. Many were unearthed wearing elaborate jewelry and placed inside decorative urnsMummy.jpg(The History Blog)

Several zoological gravesites have also been excavated in recent past, such as the Ashkelon Dog Cemetery in Israel where thousands of ancient canine remains were discovered in a series of sprawling terraces. Researchers hypothesize that because dogs were revered in many ancient Persian traditions, the elaborate burials within a sacred part of the city could indicate that the animals were temple dogs for a widely practiced puppy-loving cult. Iconography depicting a Zoroastrian deity found near the remains suggests that the dogs of Ashkelon served as religious healers of the sick and injured by licking wounds for a fee. This is not altogether astonishing considering that canine saliva has been shown to contain mild antibacterial properties.

IMG_3541.JPG(Photo: Alysen Wade)

In the modern world there are still a number of operating pet interment facilities, including the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals) founded 1899 in a Parisian suburb. It contains remains of over 40,000 companions including the internationally famous, Rin Tin Tin. The American counterpart is the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York built in 1896 containing over 70,000 interments. The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories estimates there are over 600 currently in-use pet cemeteries throughout the United States. The total number of pet cemeteries is likely to be much higher considering private burial grounds and sites that are no longer interring animals, like the Columbus Pet Cemetery.our pet.jpg(by Alysen Wade)

The Columbus Pet Cemetery (officially registered as Brown Pet Cemetery) is a bit of a hike but well worth the drive. A Google search will provide you with an address that is actually a warehouse. Park instead at the 94th Aero Squadron restaurant and walk to the far left of the property facing away from the building to the woods across the highway. In a clearing that extends all the way down to the riverfront you will find wistfully overgrown miniature headstones and endearing epitaphs replete with more cute cat pictures than you can handle.IMG_3528.JPGestablishing.jpg(by Alysen Wade)

The headstones range from early 1920s through 1990s, the oldest located at the back of the property. According to county records, local veterinarian, Walter A. Brown, founded the not-for-profit cemetery on June 9, 1941. The Capital Area Human Society received funds for its upkeep from a late son of Dr. Brown (also a vet) until he passed away. The Society now attempts to care for the land with limited resources but their primary focus is to provide welfare for non-deceased animals. This has left the grounds in a significant state of disrepair. As reported by the Columbus Dispatch, the cemetery stopped operating around 1997. At this time I am unsure of who legally owns the land.IMG_3540.JPG(by Alysen Wade)

Places like the Columbus Pet Cemetery are lingering facets of history that have contributed to the impressive growth of a commercial pet funeral economy. While such memorial parks saw their peak and decline during the 1970s and 80s, many other thriving sites continue to inter the furry departed. Animal lovers from all over the world now drive a $100 million industry. It’s easy to brush pet cemeteries off as a frivolity for the upper class—and make no mistake the $1,000+ price tag is not something that everyone can afford (the most expensive pet funeral on record cost $733,000 for a Tibetan mastiff).michigan-gladstone-pet-casket-factory-tour.jpg(

Modern pet cemeteries also serve as important sites to negotiate social acceptability and practices surrounding grief and death. The very invention of pet cemeteries was due largely to strict legislation that does not allow humans and domesticated animals to share interred space. Many have challenged and overturned these laws recently. Some adamant pet lovers forgo the regulations entirely and instead commit their own remains to pet cemetery plots with their beloved animals.Only little boy.jpg(By Charlie Wilmoth)

Most importantly, pet cemeteries reveal different sides of the human psyche. In them we see our great depth of humanity and care for small fragile things. Yet we also see how this kindness seems to extend only to certain species and groups. Pet cemeteries allow us to examine our sense of mortality and cope with the complexities of death. We have simply replicated human cities of the dead by scaling down the headstones and imbuing the animals beneath with our own traits, personalities, surnames, and religious affiliations (by the looks of it, all dogs go to Christian heaven). While some may not agree with how a person chooses to confront the challenges of losing a pet, I think we should appreciate why pet cemeteries continue to exist.IMG_3533.JPG(by Alysen Wade)

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