Sunday, May 31, 2009


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 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

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:

  • The oldest operating pet cemetery in the world

  • Home of the famous War Dog Memorial, the first memorial to pay tribute to the canines that served in our military (erected in 1923)

  • Deed restricted land

  • Irrevocable Perpetual Care and Tax Endowment Trust Funds

  • Historic, beautiful, clean and safe

  • Ranked as a Top Ten Cemetery in the World

  • Included in the Westchester County Office of tourism

  • Conveniently located just 30 minutes north of mid-town Manhattan

  • Family owned and operated for over thirty years

  • Compassionate and professional staff

  • Serving all religious denominations

  • A wide range of services and products are offered to meet all budgets

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.

Besides his private practice, Dr. Johnson was Professor of Veterinary Surgery at New York University, and served as the first official veterinarian of the State of New York. He was also a pioneer in the field of animal welfare and was instrumental in founding the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Despite the doctor's highly successful career, today he is most remembered for something he had never really planned; the first - and finest - pet cemetery in the United States.

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 burial was not intended to be the beginning of a pet cemetery, but a short time later Dr. Johnson innocently gave impetus to the idea. One day, while having lunch with a reporter friend, the doctor casually told the story of the woman's plight and the dog's burial. Within a few days, much to Dr. Johnson's surprise, the story appeared in print. And to his further surprise, he soon found himself being contacted by many people who were looking for a place to bury their beloved pets. It was almost as if he had found a cure for a dreaded disease; this was something people deeply wanted and needed - and greeted with great relief. Before long, Dr. Johnson had set aside a three-acre section of the apple orchard and it began to take the look of a cemetery, dotted with markers and flower arrangements identifying the graves of pets. By 1905, Dr. Johnson’s orchard had gained enough recognition to be written about in The New York Times. On September 3 of that year a feature story appeared in the paper under the headline “A Canine Cemetery of Three Acres in Which Scores of Pets Are Interred – Hundred of Dollars Spent on Graves and Graves by Their Sorrowing Owners.”

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.
On May 14, 1914, Dr. Johnson – to the great relief of those who had pets at Hartsdale – incorporated the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery. Until that time there were no guarantees that the cemetery would remain in existence, and whatever attention the graves got depended upon each individual owner. Incorporation meant that burial deeds were issued and perpetual care and the services of a full-time caretaker were provided. It meant that the land would be protected forever as a resting place for the nearly one thousand pets already there, and for the thousands that would join them in the future.

Today, over a century later, this beautiful hillside location, known as The Peaceable Kingdom, is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 pets including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and even a lion cub. And although some of the world’s most renowned people - from Diana Ross and Mariah Carey to the late Robert Merrill and Kate Smith - have their pets buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery - pet lovers from every station of life have had pets buried and cremated here, too. The common thread is that all were special and loved. Generations of pet owners have embraced these pet animals and made them part of their families.


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 Walsh Mausoleum--Elaborate funerals and costly monuments have always been rare at Hartsdale. An exception is a monument built a few years before World War I by Mrs. M.F. Walsh, the wife of a wealthy New Yorker.
Interesting tidbits about this monument:

  • Cost $25,000 to build. If it were built today it would cost at least four times the original figure

  • Weighs fifty tons

  • The largest monument ever created at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

  • Believed to be the first ever above-ground pet mausoleum

The inscription reads:
"My Dear Little True-Love Hearts, Who Would Lick the Hand That Had No Food To Offer."

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:


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".
Assyrian temple carvings depict great dogs straining at their leads during battle; ferocious dogs were at the siege of Corinth. During the Middle Ages, dogs dressed in coats of mail fought alongside men and by World War I, France was using dogs in action on a more sophisticated scale than ever before, training them to search for wounded men. Other nations followed France's lead. The British used dogs as messengers; the Italians, to deliver food to mountainous regions; and, by 1915, the Germans six thousand war dogs had rescued more than four thousand wounded men. From 1914 to 1918 more than seven thousand dogs were killed in action.
The United States began training dogs for combat shortly after Pearl Harbor. A civilian volunteer group called Dogs for Defense set up a reception and training center in Fort Royal, Virginia. This group was later to be come officially recognized by the military when it was incorporated into the Quartermaster Corps as the unofficially named "K-9 Corps." At the height of World War II more than ten thousand dogs from the United States, plus thousands of Red Cross dogs from many nations were in action and the history of courageous service and unstinting valor by dogs in battle continued through the war in Vietnam.

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.
While the noblest instincts are expressed at Hartsdale through the love, respect and devotion we have for our pets, another side of our nature is also represented in The Peaceable Kingdom. We are reminded of it through the majestic War Dog Memorial and by inscriptions on headstones that mention battle in alien lands.

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.
The change came about because Arthur D. Gerard, an officer of the United States occupation forces, was billeted in the Koehler home in Coblenz. As the scars of war lessened, the German family and American became friends and when Gerard's tour of duty came to an end, an extraordinary thing happened: the Koehlers, as a token of their esteem, presented Gerard with one of their dearest possessions-Koehler.
It could not have been easy for the family to part with their dog, but their love helped make the separation possible. They knew Koehler would have a better life in America; there would be no shortage of food, and he wouldn't have to put up with the hardships the destruction of war had dealt his homeland. And, of course, Koehler would be with someone that he and they cared for a great deal. So it must have been with a mixture of sadness and relief that they said goodbye to their pet and their friend as the two left for a place thousands of miles across the sea.
As many immigrants before had found, the journey to the New World was not an easy one for Koehler. Because of the vagaries of military rules and regulations, Gerard had to smuggle Koehler aboard a troopship in a cramped barrack's bag, and he had to keep Koehler confined and out of sight during the transatlantic crossing. Upon the ship's arrival in New York, Koehler had to face a tedious and frightening journey through customs before he was finally on the soil of his new land.
On these shores, Koehler had one more hurdle to clear before he could settle down. Arthur Gerard was single and had no proper home for the dog. Mrs. George Homer Martin of Tarrytown, New York, Gerard's favorite niece, came to the rescue. She happily accepted Koehler from her uncle and took him home to live amid well-earned tranquility and love for the rest of his life. The Martins remember those years more than half a century ago, and to this day they speak of the enrichment Koehler brought to them.When Koehler died at the age of twelve, Mr. and Mrs. Martin chose a place for him at Hartsdale that reminded them of the Koehler's original home, and they still visit him on the hillside under the majestic tree where he is buried.

"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.
Joachim's background was much different from Koehler's and Chips'. He hadn't come from a peaceful home and he hadn't been through formal training for war, but war was all he knew and he sensed what had to be done. A great lover of beer, he loved to toss down a few with the boys, but his head was always clear. One evening, despite the fact that he had been hitting the brew for hours, he sounded an alert moments before a sniper attack, and his quick act ion was credited with saving many lives.
When Joachim's owner was made a battalion commander they moved to another location with a refrigerator full of meat and one hundred pounds of high protein dog food.
After the war, Joachim and the commander prepared to go home to the States, but like Koehler years earlier, Joachim would have to sweat it out. When he arrived in this country, it was discovered that Joachim had an infectious disease and for awhile it was doubtful that he would be allowed in. However, the examining veterinarian relented after hearing about his heroism and after twenty seven hours in the air and those nerve-racking moments on the ground, Joachim reached his new home in Scarsdale, New York.
Life was a joy to Joachim in Westchester and he reverted to the puppy days that had been denied him. Away from the bombs and bloodshed of war, he was content to find his excitement in chewing on chairs and carpets.
Joachim showed his desire for peace when he tried to avoid a fight with a neighbor's dog who threatened him. Wishing not to fight, he turned toward home with a parting bark but never reached his destination. A speeding car ran him down.
Gentle, brave Joachim had survived the rigors of war, but man and machine claimed anyway.

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:

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: 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...
"I wouldn't start my week without coming here first! You make my blog time worthwhile because I learn so very much. Thanks Doc...I know how much effort and time you put into making certain we are worthy of our pets."

Thank you, Holly, for the kind words!

1 comment:

  1. Doc! I always love your work, but honestly Dave, this is fabulous. My beloved is a Funeral Director so I'll be making sure he gets to read this one.

    Also, I have only buried one of my pets, my beloved Jamie...but he's buried on the large property of my old address. No one but I know where it is, and by now I'm sure he's returned to the good earth entirely. Still, when I had to leave that last day, I felt as though I was leaving him behind.

    To that end, since then all my other dog-saints have now been cremated. When I follow the same, Michael will mix their ashes with mine. And, I will have them all together. I love this idea.

    Oh, and so you know, I was working at a hospital when I read Pet Cemetary...and it was a life changing moment for me. But, not in the way you might think.

    King made me see the human need to have what we want back at any cost. And, I started to see it when we would code a person after they had died.

    Often, we would get them back, but never the same as they were before they left...

    I began to realize that for a great many things...we need to be careful what we wish for and learn to trust God's/Goddess' wisdom of knowing the bigger plan and sense of time.

    Just my thought...

    Dave, you Rock, Doc!