Believed to be the second-oldest pet cemetery in the country, Aspin Hill’s story begins in 1920 when dog breeders Richard and Bertha Birney bought eight acres of land to build a kennel to breed dogs. Initially, the cemetery was just a place for the Birneys to bury their own dogs and those of close friends. But as the kennel and their social circle grew, others wanted a place to bury their beloved pets, too.
A brochure advertising the couple’s new venture explained that Aspin Hill Memorial Park (named after a kennel they admired in England) was opened “in response to an urgent and insistent demand for a fitting place of this kind […] where the owners of faithful pets could feel assured of a permanent well-kept resting place for their real friends.”
At first, the graves were simply marked, small, plain stones inscribed with both the animal’s and family’s names and relevant dates. The more elaborate markers appeared later. And they are elaborate, entailing rock walls, large statues, and even a mausoleum for a much-loved dog named Mickey.
It’s not just dogs and cats finding peace at Aspin Hill. Monkeys, birds, goats, hamsters, frogs, goldfish, turtles and snakes, among others, have all been buried at the cemetery. It was the place for the discerning pet owner to say their final goodbye to their furry, feathered, or finned loved one. So much so that among the more than 50,000 pets buried there, it’s the final resting place for some of the more famous animals among us.
Three of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s dogs are buried in Aspin Hill, as is Rags, the decorated dog-mascot of the First Division in World War I who, while wounded and under fire, delivered a vital and life-saving message across enemy lines. Aspin Hill is also the final home of Timmie, a beloved Washington, D.C. cat who lived in the National Press Building. For those owners who couldn’t imagine a life without their canine companions, Aspen Hill is also the site of about 30 human burials. (Mickey’s owners were cremated and had their ashes interred in front of his mausoleum.)
The property has passed through several owners before being given to the Montgomery County Humane Society in 2007. The Humane Society has been actively rehabilitating Aspin Hill’s buildings and grounds and plans to offer programs on animal welfare. The property is also listed on Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, ensuring that generations of pets, and the people who love them, will always be able to call it home.
Know Before You Go
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