We treat our pets like family during their lives, so why not give them the same dignity in the afterlife as we would a human relative? This is a pretty common sentiment in today’s society, but it’s actually nothing new. In fact, the country’s first pet cemetery opened right here in New York, and still to this day is the nation’s largest such burial ground.
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery was established in 1896 by NYC veterinarian Samuel Johnson (an early promoter of the ASPCA), who provided part of his apple orchard at his Westchester retreat to serve as a burial spot for a client’s dog. Now, nearly 120 years later, this area is the resting place for more than 80,000 pets, from dogs and cats to reptiles and a lion cub who called the Plaza Hotel home. Known as “The Peaceable Kingdom,” the grounds are also home to a 50-ton above-ground mausoleum for a pair of spaniels and the War Dog Memorial, a post-WWI tribute to military canines that was the first of its kind. Even Diana Ross, George Raft, and Mariah Carey have buried their four-legged friends here.
After offering a piece of his property for his client’s dog’s burial, Dr. Johnson appeared in a newspaper article about the event. His office was flooded with requests from other pet owners, and before long he had taken a three-acre portion of his orchard to officially serve as a pet burial ground. According to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, ” Soon little headstones, wire fences, and elaborate floral arrangements were peppering the grounds. It all came to a climax in 1899 when a spaniel named Major was put to rest in a glass-topped satin-lined casket while mourners sang an expressive doxology.” By 1913, news of the cemetery was so widespread that a deceased hound dog was brought to Hartsdale from Kalamazoo. It was originally known as Hartsdale Canine Cemetery but was changed since animals of all kinds came here to rest.
The aforementioned dog mausoleum was erected in in 1917, after Mrs. M. F. Walsh, the wife of a wealthy New Yorker, purchased the plot for $23,000 (over $400,000 today). The granite structure reads, “My Little TrueLove Hearts, Who Would Lick the Hand That Had No Food to Offer.” The 1923 War Dog Memorial is considered the most historically significant piece of Hartsdale. In 1921, plot owners at the cemetery launched a campaign to raise $2,500 for a final resting spot for the thousands of canines killed during the war. Walter A. Buttendorf won the memorial’s design competition for his depiction of a bronze German Shepherd atop a granite boulder with a helmet and canteen at his feet. Sculptor Robert Caterson, whose work can be seen at Grand Central, carved the memorial from a granite boulder found at his Vermont quarry. When the War Dog Memorial was unveiled, representatives from every country that fought in the war attended. Other memorial plaques have been added over the years, including ones for the dogs lost in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the only dog who lost his life during 9/11.