In 1998, folk artist Stephen Huneck died and five minutes later, came back to life. Stephen had been battling Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome and, upon recovery, stated that “the near-death experience, combined with what my wife taught me about love, and the appreciation I felt toward the most basic things we take for granted all had a profound effect on me. As an artist, I share the feelings I have with others through my art.”
Not long after Huneck returned home to his wife and three dogs, he had the idea of wanting to “build a chapel, one that celebrated the spiritual bond we have with our dogs, and that would be open to dogs and people. People of any faith or belief system.” Huneck built the chapel on “Dog Mountain,” on his mountaintop farm in St Johnsbury, Vermont.
Huneck styled it in the manner of “a small village church built in Vermont in 1820, quite fitting with its setting of rolling mountains and pasture," according to his personal website. "The white steeple points up to the heavens, and on the top is a Lab with wings that turns in the wind and proclaims this place has a special affinity with dogs.” As you walk into the chapel you are bathed in the light of the stained glass windows, with images of dogs pieced into them, and surrounded by dog carvings. The interior walls are covered in handwritten notes and photographs of dogs and other animals that have passed on, and the tables offer treats for canine visitors.
Scattered around Dog Mountain are various dog sculptures such as a row of canine heads mounted on pillars and small man in a business suit walking his dog. A sign outside of the chapel reads: "Welcome all creeds, all breeds. No dogmas allowed.”
In January of 2010, the Dog Chapel and Huneck's other galleries were hit hard by the economic downturn and Huneck was forced to lay off most of his employees. Huneck was deeply saddened by the events and felt responsible for the welfare of the workers he had to let go. A week later, he took his own life.
His wife Gwen continued to run the chapel, until she herself committed suicide in the summer of 2013. However, the staff continues to maintain the vision of the founders and Dog Mountain remains free and open to the public.
Know Before You Go
Two miles east of St. Johnsbury, on Rt. 2, turn left on Spaulding Road, go straight -- it's a gravel road that curves up to Dog Mountain.