The First Pet Cemetery in the World

Postcard of Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Claimed to be the first pet cemetery in the world, Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, (literally translated as the “Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals”), opened in 1899.* It was originally founded as the Cimetière des Chiens (“Cemetery of Dogs”) because of a law that was passed in 1898 by Paris’s city government forbidding Parisians from throwing dead dogs into the the Seine River, gutter, or trash. One article noted the introduction of the new law stating:

“[D]ead dogs must be buried a hundred yards from human habitation and three feet under ground. This was easy in the country, but impossible in Paris, so Parisians solved the problem by throwing the canines into the River Seine.”

Such disposal of dead animals created an obvious health hazard, and Parisians found they were spending a lot of money for the recovery of discarded pets from gutters and the Seine. Thus, for sanitary and monetary reasons, it became important for Parisians to establish laws about a pet’s proper disposal. Another reason to properly dispose of dogs was provided by an early twentieth-century magazine when it stated:

“[E]ven a dog should be given its due, and many deserved a better end than river or gutter — many that had been faithful companions, in some cases sole friends of their owners during their life, others that had merited more than ordinary consideration by some noble act such as the saving of life.”

Location of the Cemetery. Author’s Collection.

Georges Harmois and stage actress, journalist, and leading suffragette Marguerite Durand heard about the new law and thought about the sentimental value of pets. They then conceived the idea of establishing a cemetery for dogs and other domestic pets. They placed their cemetery in a spot without houses, near the outskirts of Paris, and on a narrow parcel of land called the island of Ravageurs in Asnières-sur-Seine (it was later attached to the bank in 1795). One person described the location as being an ideal spot:

“It rises abruptly from the river, its sides fringed by lofty trees which, if their skeletons appear somewhat bleak in the leafless months, cast when clothed in the fulness of their verdure, over greensward and blossomed flowers a genial shade that gives the spot an air of repose and tranquillity like unto that of some deep-buried country churchyard.”

Marguerite Durand. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The digging of the cemetery began in June of 1899. The cemetery opened that same summer. It was divided into four sections, one for dogs, one for cats, one for birds, and another section for pets that would come to include horses, rabbits, fish, hamsters, and even Durand’s lion named “Tiger.”

Originally, the cemetery catered to the well-to-do and upper-classes. That was because they were willing to spend good money to bury their beloved pets. However, the idea of spending so much on pets and burying them with such flashiness, caused one person to comment in 1901:

“Paris is generally supposed to set the fashions in most matters and it is possible that the city has started a new style in providing a pretentious cemetery where dogs may be buried with as much pomp and ceremony as their masters.”

The idea of pomp and ceremony proved to be prosperous. The cemetery was earning so much money, they decided to evict the marble cutter. He had established himself there at its opening in 1899 and had enjoyed a free workshop ever since. The marble cutter was so upset about his possible eviction, he took the cemetery’s owners to court and “alleged that it was in a great measure owing to him and the care he bestowed upon the epitaphs and tombstones that the cemetery had prospered.”

Detail of Nouveau-style Cemetery Entrance. Author’s Collection.

Whether the marble cutter or the cemetery won is unclear, but what is clear is that revenue to maintain the cemetery was not just acquired by burials. The cemetery also received money by charging five pence to gain entrance. To enter, visitors passed through a wrought iron gate that faced the Pont d’Asuières. Surrounding the gate was a grand and elegance entrance designed by noted architect Eugène Petit in Art Nouveau style. After passing through the gate, the five pence was paid to the concierge seated in a little hut located to the right just inside the gate, and once inside the cemetery, visitors were able to see the graves of the deceased animals.

Within three years of the cemetery being laid out, it became home to hundreds of dogs, cats, and birds. Burials could be as simple or as elaborate as a pet owner desired. This meant that some animals were carried to the cemetery by their owners and buried in common graves that consisted of three or four pets, each being separated by a layer of earth. It also meant that some pets were taken from a person’s home by a special carrier dressed in a uniform. Sometimes dead pets were interred in lined coffins, and other times they were immortalized by grand monuments.

“Many monuments took the form of dog-kennels, cut in stone, from two to three feet in height; others are more ambitious in design, from four to five feet in height and proportionally large. Around each are low fences in wrought metal, sometimes silvered, sometimes bronzed, and the majority of the plots are decked with flowers — pansies, daisies, violets, forget-me-nots. In several instances, too, that beholders may gain some idea of the departed dog, its portrait is introduced behind a covering of glass.”

Honorary Monument to Moustache in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques. Author’s Collection.

Among some of the more interesting monuments erected at the cemetery was a 30-foot monument to a mountain rescue dog that later became the St. Bernard. The rescue dog’s name was Barry. Barry lived in Switzerland and worked for the Great St. Bernard Hospice and supposedly during his lifetime saved 40 people trapped in the snow. After his death, his body was passed into the care of the Natural History Museum of Bern and they preserved him through taxidermy, so his body is not buried at Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques. Another dog honored that is also not buried at the cemetery is Moustache. Moustache was a black French poodle who it is claimed took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. A third interesting monument to a dog that is perhaps the most resplendent and most imposing of all the monuments at the cemetery, belongs to a dog that is not famous but is buried there. Her name is “Diane.”

“From a background of tall evergreen plants, a monument in white stone, some five feet in height, stands out conspicuously. … It bears the inscription, ‘Diane, 18 Novembre 1901. Tu nous as charmes pendant ta vie, si courte. Ton souvenir sera toujours avec nous.“§ The words are cut in a stone bow surmounting the monument, whose base is lost in a bed of multicoloured pansies. … Forming a half-circle before the monument and enclosing the flowers are six granite pillars connected with drooping silvered chains at their tops.”

When nineteenth and early twentieth-century visitors read the headstones on the graves, they quickly discovered that “the animals were, in the estimation of their owners, far more than mere canines.” In fact, owners were often extremely devoted to their pets. This was demonstrated by the marble cutter when he was in court. He noted that owner engravings included such sentiments as “Home to a faithful heart,” “Here lies Black, killed by a civilized savage,” and “Beneath these stones reside the material remains of that which during its life was my joy and my consolation.”

Notes:
* The ancient Ashkelon dog cemetery predates France’s Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques by thousands of years.
§ In English it reads, “You have charmed us during your short life. Your memory will always be with us.”

References:

  • Bolton, Sarah Knowles, Our Devoted Friend, 1902
  • Life, Volume 49, 1907
  • Stone, Volume 22, 1901
  • The Windsor Magazine, Volume 19, 1904

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