Before New York City veterinarian Samuel Johnson offered his apple orchard as a place of peaceful internment for a client’s dog, there was nowhere in the United States where pets could have a dignified formal burial. Now, over a century since it was founded in 1896, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery has over 80,000 dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, reptiles, monkeys, horses, a lion, and even some humans buried on its five acres.
As the oldest operating pet cemetery in the United States, Hartsdale, which was originally called Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, has served both the elite who wanted to be sure their animals were memorialized in style, as well as regular people who just loved their pets. In 2012, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
There are graves for pets of entertainers like George Raft, Diana Ross, Irene Castle, and Mariah Carey, as well as a lion cub that Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy rescued from the circus. It’s said to have lived in her small menagerie at the Plaza Hotel, which also included a bear, alligators, and an owl. The first dog mausoleum in the country was built here by Mrs. M.F. Walsh for her dogs Sally and Toodles.
Some people have even chosen to be buried alongside their pets, an inter-species mixing that is not permitted in human cemeteries, such as one couple whose urn is placed atop the tombstone for their pets. At the center of the cemetery is the War Dog Memorial in honor of the dogs that served in World War I, and it’s encircled with tributes to the space dog Laika (who is not buried in the cemetery) as well as the dogs who helped with search and rescue following the Oklahoma City bombing. Sirius, a dog who died in the September 11 terror attacks, is also memorialized.
Yet the most fascinating aspect of Hartsdale Pet Cemetery are the epitaphs for dogs that were not famous or notable in any way except that they brought joy to their owners who loved them in return. Strolling through the tombstones you realize how universal the human-animal bond is among all types of people, and all breeds of pets.
Know Before You Go
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery is located in Westchester County off Central Park Avenue (Rte. 100). From Central Park Avenue, turn onto West Hartsdale Avenue and then turn right onto North Washington Avenue.