Pet Connection

Memories Are Forever

A visit to a pet cemetery is a glimpse of the timelessness of the human-animal bond

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Overlooking the river Seine on the outskirts of Paris is a green place of remembrance. Cats wander through, and people stroll quietly, occasionally stopping to read short stories etched in stone. It is the Cimetiere des Chiens, the world's first public pet cemetery, and it is proof positive that pets have an afterlife.

Dogs, cats, birds, bunnies and even a horse or two have been laid to rest here since the peaceful park's founding in 1899. Inscriptions on headstones bear silent witness to human grief at the loss of beloved pets:

Irreplaceable.

Ici repose Love (here lies love).

Tout notre amour (all our love).

You might be surprised to learn that famed canine star of the silver screen Rin Tin Tin is buried here. He was born in France, rescued as a 5-day-old puppy by a doughboy from a World War I battlefield and taken to America. After his death, his remains were returned to his homeland. Fans leave treats on his headstone.

Also memorialized (although they died before the cemetery was founded) are Moustache, the mascot of Napoleon's Grande Armee, and Barry, a Saint Bernard renowned for saving 40 lives and dying in an attempt to save a 41st person.

Not all of the pets buried here are famous or heroic. They are something even better: beloved companions of people from all walks of life. Here lie Rosy and Ulysse; Riki-Tiki, born in Moscow July 4, 1918, died in Paris Nov. 6, 1928; a pair of gray Persian cats named Pacha and Darius; Cavalier King Charles spaniels Rimbaud and Sissi; and dogs Rex, Caramel, Mick, Lisette and Belgrano. Aristocratic pets include Drac (1941-1953), beloved dog of Princess Elisabeth of Romania; Sully, who belonged to the Comte and Comtesse Alexandre Dumas; Marquise and Tony, the dogs of Princess Lobanov.

Among the statuary chipped with age, lettering faded almost beyond reading, are more recent monuments to pets now passed: Blacky, 1973-1991; Custom Built of Tintagel Winds (Tommy), a black Labrador retriever, 1987-2000; and Smicky, a Yorkie, 1997-2010. Fresh flowers and live plants decorate some of the sites, placed by visiting owners (pets may still be buried there) and the cemetery's caretakers.

Cimetiere des Chiens isn't just for animals who have passed away. Feral cats nap on headstones or stalk along the paths. Inside a small building with a cat door they can find shelter and food, and water flows from a fountain. A crypt for a cat named Mimi has three openings (each in the shape of a cat), no doubt so the cat's ghost can swoop in and out without requiring someone to open a door for her. The cats who live in the cemetery find the interior of Mimi's crypt a nice resting place as well.

People have buried pets with ritual and regret for millennia. Hunter-gatherer societies in eastern Siberia buried dogs with tokens of affection or in ways that suggested a special bond with them, according to a study published in 2013 in PLOS ONE:

"One dog skeleton was laid to rest in a sleeping position; others were buried with small ornaments or implements, some resembling toys. One man was buried with two dogs laid on either side of him, while another dog was placed in his grave wearing a necklace fashioned from four deer's teeth."

As I walked through the cemetery last September, it made me a little sad to think that for long-gone pets, no one is left who remembers them. But as long as visitors come here, their memories live on.

Q&A

Costumes for pets:

Yea or nay?

Q: I want to get a dinosaur costume for our dog for Halloween, but my boyfriend thinks he (the dog) will be embarrassed and it would be cruel to make him wear it. I think it would be cute and that he would love all the attention he would get (he loves people). -- via Facebook

A: People have strong opinions on everything pet-related, so it's not surprising that they are sharply divided when it comes to pets wearing clothes or costumes. We happen to fall into the "it can be fun" category. After all, our dogs and cats usually love doing things that involve being with us and being the center of our attention. That said, we have some tips to help make dressing up for Halloween a treat, not a trick, for your pet.

-- Be sensitive to his personality. It's true that some pets would rather hide under the bed than wear a costume, especially in public. If your pet is shy, old or excessively dignified, limit costume capers to a spooky bandana and put your dress-up desires into your own costume.

-- Comfort is a must. Never choose anything that restricts your pet's movement, sight or hearing or that seems to chafe against his skin or fur. If he spends all his time trying to get it off, that's a good clue that he's not enjoying wearing it. It's also a good idea to avoid any costumes with buttons, bows or other parts that your pet could chew off and swallow.

-- Be street-safe. If you're planning on taking him trick-or-treating, his costume (and yours) should be visible in the dark. If it's not, fancy up his costume with a collar and leash that blink or glow in the dark.

-- Be smart. Try the costume on your pet well in advance. You don't want to find out on Halloween that your pug refuses to go out dressed as a ladybug. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

New bill helps

Military dogs get home

-- Military working dogs not only save the lives of 150 to 200 servicemembers each year by detecting roadside bombs and other dangers, they also can help veterans deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress. Until recently, though, they faced an uncertain future after retirement, with no guarantee that they would be brought back to the U.S. or reunited with their handlers. The good news is that Congress passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a mandate for the dogs to be brought back to the United States after their retirement and gives handlers first right of adoption.

-- Janet Wilhelm was storing dog food in a bin in her garage when she slipped and fell, landing on her left hip and fracturing her pelvis in five places. The McKinney, Texas, woman couldn't move, and her husband wasn't at home. But Mabel, the black Labrador retriever the Wilhelms adopted three years ago, was on the job. Wilhelm grabbed Mabel's collar, and the dog began backing up, inching Wilhelm toward the house, a 20-foot journey that took an hour and a half. Wilhelm finally was able to reach a phone and call for help. Like the bumper sticker says, "Who rescued whom?"

-- A grassroots organization called Collide in New York City has a special purpose: It serves homeless people with pets. The volunteers help people and pets living on the streets with food, veterinary care and licensing. The organization's goal is to improve quality of life for both people and animals. A volunteer veterinarian provides checkups, vaccinations and medication if needed. Working with the Humane Society of NYC, Collide also offers access to a spay/neuter clinic for pets. During inclement weather, the organization offers emergency boarding services for pets so their people can seek shelter where animals might not be permitted. For information about helping, see collidenyc.org. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: Pet cemeteries serve the living and the dead. A black cat makes his home in a Paris pet cemetery. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: A New York organization helps homeless people care for their pets. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 3

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