Photo Essay

Le Cimetiere des Chiens

Cimetiere des Chiens

Just outside Paris in the suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine is Le Cimetiere des Chiens, which literally means the Cemetery of the Dogs. That's right, a pet cemetery, and not just any pet cemetery, but the oldest one in the world.

Many locals don't even know about Le Cimetière des Chiens. When I emerged from the metro to seek it out, I stopped into a little patisserie to make sure I was headed in the right direction.

"Excusez-moi, je suis a la recherche pour Le Cimetière des Chiens s'il vous plait," I said politely to the lady behind the counter in my horrible French.

The most perplexed look crossed her face. "Cimetiere des Chiens???" She asked.

I nodded hopefully

"Anglais?" She asked.

I wrinkled my nose, nodded reluctantly, embarrassed it was so obvious.

"The Cemetery of the Dogs??" She asked incredulously.

I nodded vigorously and smiled brightly, "That's right!"

There were a few other locals in the shop. She asked them something in rapid-fire French, and they all froze with baffled looks on their faces and shook their heads saying, "non." They looked as if they were asked, "Do you like to eat rotten eggs?" The lady turned to me and declared, "We have cemeteries for people here, but not for dogs!" I sighed and bought what I swear was the most amazing donut I've ever had in my entire life.

Back on the street, I asked someone which way to the Seine and continued on. Sure enough, the cemetery was right where I thought it would be, just on the other side of the river. Sometimes it's better not to second guess yourself, but then I would have missed out on that donut.

The cemetery is a gem. It was founded in 1899 and, despite its name, there are all kinds of animals buried here including a lion, a racehorse, monkeys and fish. There are monuments in honor of Bari, the famous St Bernard credited with saving 40 lives in the Swiss Alps, and for Moustache, Napoleons's favorite dog. The most famous animal buried here is Rin Tin Tin, the movie-star dog, who starred in nearly 30 films in the 1920's and later had his own radio show.

This is not your typical graveyard. In fact, it actually has a very festive feel about it. Graves are decked out with bright flowers, dog toys, trinkets and glittering beads everywhere. There was even a mini disco ball! Some tombstones have photos of the animals, others have ornate statues- some more quirky than others. Each epitaph was touching in its way, whether it was just a name and year or many paragraphs in French. The graves in this cemetery feel so personal, it is clear these animals were completely loved and missed. Le Cimetiere des Chiens really seems like a celebration of who these animals were. It's too bad we humans don't take the same liberty with our own somber graves.

Next time you are in Paris, definitely put Le Cimetiere des Chiens on your list of things to do. And if you meet any dog-loving locals, you might tell them about this wonderful cemetery too- it's too unique of a place to keep secret!

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