Barking Blondes: Will you book a grave plot for your dog?
This week we were invited to visit the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery. A hidden treasure, nestling behind the bushes of Victoria Lodge’s garden, only travellers on the top deck of passing buses will realize it’s there. The iron railing, perimeter fence, protects this pint-sized pet cemetery from prying eyes but once inside, it contains over 300 graves.
Why is it that we can walk around a human cemetery with interest and reflection, yet the animal equivalent turns the two of us into emotional wrecks?
In 1881, the lodge keeper, a Mr Winbridge, allowed Cherry, a much-loved Maltese Terrier, to be laid to rest in his garden.
The dog was owned by a pair of regular park walkers, the Barneds from Cambridge square. The lodge keeper was doing them a favour as they had no garden and wanted Cherry to be buried in the park where, in her prime, she loved to run. The inscription on her tiny tombstone reads: “Poor Cherry” Died April 28 1881. From then on, the lodge’s garden was given over to a grave yard as more and more dogs who lost their lives (many under horse-drawn carriages) were laid there to rest.
Over the following years, until 1903, the cemetery grew, and more of the Lodge’s garden was granted a resting haven for dogs and cats. Even members of the royal family chose to have their dogs buried there. The cemetery was laid out in neat, uniform rows, with small, simple headstones with leaded letters. Despite the reserved and inexpressive Victorian demeanour that was characteristic of the time, the epitaphs are very emotional.
It’s interesting to note, from reading the headstones, that the trend for German sounding names such as ‘Kaiser” and “Fritz” seemed to cease after the war. When we visited Paris’ equivalent cemetery, hidden close to the banks of the Seine we became emotional in exactly the same way. The Cimetières des Chiens is probably most notorious for where the movie legend Rin Tin Tin is buried,
We were overwhelmed by the outbursts of love, loss, pain and grief from the Victorians. Thousands of graves, gargoyles, statues and mausoleums haphazardly placed, many inscribed with poems to reflect the owner’s emotions.
How many of us make plans for the inevitable death of our beloved pooch? We humans have a feeling of being invincible and when we first take our dog home as an eight-week old puppy, it’s so full of life that its mortality is not on the radar. But as the years fly by and with a couple of emergency trips to the vet under the belt, the radar starts bleeping.
These days there are dedicated pet crematoriums and a few graveyards, not to mention a host of other options to immortalise your precious pooch using its ashes to make a faux diamond or a paperweight. In America there’s even a firm that will mummify your dog at a price!
It seems that even though our modern 21st Century is an age apart from life in the Victorian era, there seems to be one thing we still have in common – the love and friendship of a dog.
Have you booked a plot?
‘Barking Blondes’ by Anna Webb & Jo Good, published by Hamlyn, £12.99
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