Douglas Keister published Stories in Paris: A Field Guide to Paris Cemeteries and Their Residents in 2013 and I don’t remember when I bought it. I must have encountered it in the travel pages of The New York Times. but I don’t recall.
Cemeteries in Distant Districts
The Cimitière des Chiens in Asnières-sur-Seine, founded in 1899, lies out on the western edge of the Paris. Do they allow cats in? Apparently, they do. Other critters as well.
Murat back at the Garden Saint Martin hotel was a little dubious about my wandering off to Asnières alone. He said don’t talk to strangers and watch out for “gypsies.” Nor had he heard of this Cimitière des Chiens. But he agreed I needed to take the 3 from République to Gare St. Lazare and change to the 13 going north, direction Asnières. Cross the Seine and there it is. On the left.
The Dog Cemetery
My heart sank. What, the cemetery was closed? No, open. Visitors enter through a side gate to buy tickets. No tickets needed on weekends, though.
No one else was there. Just me and thousands of souls of pets who had been adored and whose absence would always be felt.
It is a large space, long and narrow, with markers in tight rows, back-to-back. A flat, inconspicuous one right by the entrance, memorializes a dog with no name who was struck and killed right by the cemetery, on May 15, 1958. He was the 40,000th animal to be laid to rest there, and his life was valued as though her were the first.
I felt Dan’s absence, too, in a way I hadn’t in Montparnasse. I thought of Morgan the Corgi and Theo the Cat and beloved Flower, the best dog ever, and every other animal and every person who had blessed my life.
Dogs of Courage
There are bona-fide heroes here.
One L.V. commemorated Dick, a World War I trench dog who rescued wounded men, with immense sorrow:
1915-1929 / Here lies Dick, faithful companion in the trenches / Who was always my only friend. / He lived a model life / And his leaving plunges me into sadness. / His memory haunts me, I miss his affection. / Remorse overcomes me, I feel I was brutal / To have disciplined him while his weakness / Should have stopped my hand, and it pains me. / And so I am all alone, no longer believing in anything. / Life has given me such pain! Still, one thought / (Remains with me in my distress), / He was loved by his mistress / And only that comforts me. / L.V.
Barry the Saint Bernard also rescued people. A Küherhund, the real Barry died in 1812 but his exploits and those of his fellows certainly deserve celebration. There is also a monument to the dogs of the police forces.
Dogs of Fame
Rin Tin Tin was a “police dog” who rose to fame as a Hollywood star. A GI adopted Rinty, as he was called, as a pup in France in the waning days of World War I. He brought Rinty to the United States where the dog’s aptitude for learning complex tricks found him a home in the nascent film industry. Rinty died in 1932 and was buried in his owner’s yard. When the house was sold, Rinty was disinterred and repatriated.
Another dog also had thespian credits: Poilu. He was applauded in the 1952 film, “My Priest Among the Rich.”
Dogs of Fortune
There are pets of the rich and famous. Another visitor, Isabelle, mentioned a legend that Princess Lobanov buried Marquise and Tony with jewels around their necks. Their graves were subsequently looted as though they were canine pharaohs.
A whole kennel’s worth of Komodors rest together. The cemetery is also filled with pups extraordinary in the devotion they inspired if not in the pedigrees they could claim.
Pups of Every Description
Little Géant was a giant in someone’s life. Tipsy left her Mama heartbroken. Emma, who died in 1900, was the “faithful companion and only friend” of her person’s life.
Once can only imagine the breeds and appearances of some of these cherished canines. Some markers, if they ever had inscriptions, have lost them to weather and moss. Bibi, though, is an astonishing modern effigy. A different Bibi was a mass of curls. One sleek little fellow must have had intense eyes and permanently up-pricked ears.
Fluffy and shorthaired, tabbies and calicoes, kitties of every kind are here. There is even a “House of Cats” at the bottom of the garden.
Xixi Xu is apotheosized in white marble stone enriched with gold. Kinshasha de Cabot Cove Coon was apparently quite the clever girl and her skills are described for visitors. Prince was a “chat adoré.” Cooky is remembered with masses of white flowers.
All Creatures Great and Small
Some of the most renowned residents are neither cats nor dogs. Visitors search for the grave of Kiki, the monkey;I did not realize she was there until I reviewed the map provided at the entrance.
Three horses reside here for eternity. Masseraux lies in the outer precincts of the park. Troy Town has more prominent placement. Ilette, Julie and Agatha are ponies. Marguerite Durand, the writer who co-founded the cemetery, remembered her own steed front and center.
Ezequielle the turtle was a “formidable gift of life” for thirteen years. Bunga the Rabbit is buried there, as is a bird named Rosalinde and a bee. “@BEE_NFLUENCER,” a casualty in 2021 of pesticides.
Love is Forever
The day before I had spent about as many hours in the Cimitière Montparnasse with Dan’s ashes. I had been sad. My grief was so stronger here, though. Human burial grounds, to me, become historical artifacts. This is when this person lived, this is what they did, whom they married, and so on.
Sooner or later, however, those connections break.
In the Dog Cemetery, though, souls of the departed hover over and inside these markers created for and about them. The places they held in life feel painfully empty in death, a pain that seems not to abate or allow itself to be suppressed.
Every memorial there reanimates the one, the ones, we will never forget. The tombstone for the person who no longer lives—or never lived—in your experience are interesting. The graves of these beloved creatures, none of them ours, settle right into our hearts.