Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery.

The oldest standing headstone at the cemetery, dated 1899.

Animal burials were illegal in NYC back in the day, and cremation wasn't really a thing in this country until fairly recently, so back then the only real option after your pet died was to put them out with the trash. If you've ever had a pet yourself, or even just known someone who had one, you can imagine how distressing this would be.

One day in 1896, Dr. Samuel K. Johnson, chief veterinarian of the City of New York and board member of the ASPCA, had a client come to him in a state because she didn't know what to do with her beloved dog that had just died. Feeling her pain, he offered to bury the pet in his apple orchard in Hartsdale, several miles north of the city.

Johnson happened to mention the story in passing to a journalist friend, who published the story. Within weeks he was flooded with requests from grieving pet owners asking if they could also bury their pets at the orchard.

Unfortunately I could find neither audio nor video of Rini Rinty, the blue ribbon singing dog, online.

Yes, a lion, belonging to noted portraitist and socialite Princess Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy, who rescued Goldfleck from the Ringling Brothers circus, and for a time lived with her in grand style at the Plaza Hotel. Despite the sign out front reading "Hartsdale Canine Cemetery", the former apple orchard also houses cats, birds, snakes, iguanas, sheep, horses, rabbits, and at least one monkey.

Babe was a dancing terrier belonging to popular vaudevillian George Primrose (whose minstrel act Primrose and West was famous for not featuring blackface). Unfortunately, as with Rini Rinty above, I could find no surviving video of his act. I love how intricate the stonework is here (and elsewhere in the cemetery). It's too bad about the broken leg - I hope they can fix it.

Phillip Seldon, the man who commissioned this rabbit and cat band sculpture in 2011, was one of the central figures in a lawsuit brought against the state to allow human remains to be buried in animal cemeteries. The law passed in 2013.

The War Dog Memorial was built in 1923 in tribute to all of the rescue dogs who served or died in WWI, and today has become the de facto memorial for all service animals, in all capacities, in war and not. There is a rededication ceremony every year, in June, that I would very much like to attend one day.

Before 2000, all military dogs were either euthanized or just abandoned once they had gotten too old or had otherwise "outlived their purpose". Robby's Law changed all that. This is Robby. Now, the animals are offered up for adoption, first to their handlers, then to various law enforcement agencies, and finally to qualified families. The applications are strict, and the waiting list is long.

Grumpy's headstone once stood over six feet high and was the tallest structure at Hartsdale, though unfortunately not the most well-built. Rather than risk it falling over and killing somebody, the cemetery decided to cut it in half and set the pieces in their present configuration. Even so, it's still one of the tallest and most distinctive markers in the place.

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