Farewell Dear Friend

October. The spookiest month. The month when the distance between the living and the dead is only a hair’s breadth. The month when spirits walk and we can speak once again with the departed.

It’s also the London Month of the Dead.

At Brompton Cemetery, in the chapel, a range of speakers have been exploring facets of our relationships with death and how these are expressed now and, especially, how they were in the past. One of the talks I’ve been to, ‘Walkies in the Paradise Garden‘ was about pet cemeteries and how we mourn and memorialize the animals with whom we spend our lives. Several years ago I visited the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique, the pet cemetery of Paris. I began writing a blog post about it but the ‘feels’ got the better of me and I had to abandon it. Prompted by this talk, I decided to make a second attempt but this time I’ve had to swerve feelings and just stick to facts and photos.

Here goes…

A recent study has revealed that many humans actually prefer their pets to their partners*.  I can’t say that I’m surprised by this. I mean, let’s face it, humans are a bit rubbish whereas pets are awesome. Don’t get me wrong; humans do have their uses. We have thumbs, we have contactless payment cards with which we can buy cat food, and some of us can play the drums. We don’t look like this though

Unfortunately, most animals don’t live as long as humans, meaning that with pet ownership comes the acceptance that bereavement is inevitable. We bury our loved-one in the garden and sob quietly to ourselves. However, for Parisians, who are always a bit ‘extra’, this simply will not do.

In a north-western suburb of Paris is one of the world’s oldest purpose-built pet cemeteries, the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique (originally just Cimetière des Chiens). It opened in 1899 and was designed to have all the trappings, facilities and grandeur of a reasonably smart human cemetery. Before the opening of the cemetery the bodies of deceased domestic animals, even beloved pets, were treated as refuse and disposed of accordingly, but a new law passed in Paris forbade such casual disposal of animal corpses, stipulating that they must be properly buried, away from dwellings. For smart, and well-off, Parisians, the foundation of the cemetery by lawyer, Georges Harmois, and feminist journalist, Marguerite Durand, met the need for suitable facilities.

From the exterior, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between this and a human cemetery. It’s really only when you enter the cemetery that the zoological nature of the memorials becomes apparent. The cemetery was originally called the Cemetery of Dogs, as lap-dogs were favourite pets of the well-off and so were the most common animals buried there.

The saying goes that ‘you can’t take it with you’. This good Boi, Arry, begs to differ.

Some of the dogs, especially, were service animals and/or mascots. Some served during, or just after, the Great War or were the working companions of service men and women.

The cemetery also includes the prominent memorial to Barry, a Saint Bernard dog who worked as a mountain rescue dog in Switzerland and Italy before the Great War, and who was responsible for saving the lives of 40 people trapped in snow in the mountains. When he had rescued the 41st person, Barry was overcome and died, but his fame lives on. Barry isn’t buried here though. His remains are still in Switzerland.

But many other animal-types are represented. Cats feature heavily.

Including the pet lion of Mme Durand herself.

There are also rabbits and other small rodents, birds, turtles and fish

There is even a monkey and a gazelle and a fennel fox!

Perhaps surprisingly, there are also a couple of horses. On the day of my visit, part of the cemetery was blocked off as a new horse grave was being dug. Horse graves are big.

Most of the memorials echo those seen in human cemeteries; headstones, grave-surrounds, plaques and mausolea. But these mausolea differ from their human counterparts in that they represent kennels and cat-baskets.

This one even holds its cats’ favourite cushion and, in true cat style, Plume is laid to rest, sleeping for all eternity on the washing.

I visited on a dull rainy day and spent most of the time there blubbing at the thought of long-lost friends. I really know how to have fun, huh?

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 * http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/majority-of-pet-owners-prefer-animal-company-to-time-with-their-partners-1-7855205 

Cimetiere des Chiens https://decouvrir.asnieres-sur-seine.fr/patrimoine-naturel/le-cimetiere-des-chiens/