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Dog jaunt: A visit to Paris’s pet cemetery

Even if I didn’t write a dog travel blog, I would have visited Paris’s Cimetière des chiens. I like cemeteries. As I’ve mentioned before, a big chunk of my youth was spent biking along country roads in Indiana and Ohio, and rural cemeteries are the perfect biker’s lunch spot. The only cemeteries I find uninviting — spooky, even — are the ones that disallow gravestones, and look like empty fields. Otherwise, cemeteries are, to me, both lovely and interesting. Terse as they are, gravestones are full of clues that link individuals into couples and families, and sketch the stories of their lives.

View from near the entrance -- the big monument on the left honors Barry the St. Bernard (“Il sauva la vie à 40 personnes. Il fut tué par le 41ème”)

Founded in 1899, Paris’s pet cemetery (despite its name, it houses not only dogs but also cats, birds, a horse and, reportedly, a lion and a monkey) is a delight for a cemetery-lover. Located on the Seine, in the Paris suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine (about a 20-minute metro trip from central Paris), it’s a tree-shaded, tranquil spot packed with beautiful, bizarre, and goofy headstones, each of which tells a tale of heartbreak, appreciation and enduring love. More than one gravestone describes the lost pet as their owner’s only friend. One owner simply wrote “our unforgettable little Sloupy.” I fell apart over an owner’s homage to Hera, who “loved the sea — let the Seine rock you to sleep at last.”

I didn’t mind weeping, though — the strength of our feelings for our pets is one of the things I like most about people, and people were very likable indeed in this place. How can you not smile at a headstone shaped like a doghouse? Or a headstone bearing a life-sized marble cat, tail curled around the edge for balance? Or a grave covered — every inch of it — with flowers and figurines and toys and, yes, Mardi Gras beads?

And no place frequented by cats could ever be gloomy. A team of volunteers tends to the cats, who are sleek sun-worshippers, draping themselves across marble slabs and curling up in ornamental urns. A note taped to the window of the “Maison des chats” at the rear of the cemetery mentioned that one of the cats was recently seen by a veterinarian, and Chloe found a really surprising number of bowls of cat food. I fret about feral cats, but this collection certainly seems to be looked after and loved.

The cemetery is open every day except Mondays and most holidays, from 10 am to 6 pm (summer) or 4:30 pm (winter). Your leashed dog is welcome.

The nearest metro station is Mairie de Clichy, about a fifteen-minute walk away (here are some excellent directions). As you cross the Pont de Clichy bridge, the cemetery will be on the far bank, on the left. Look for the arched entrance. When you leave, return to Mairie de Clichy — if you head north to the metro station on the cemetery side of the river, you’ll find yourself in Zone 3, which is cause for grief if you, like us, have a Zones 1 and 2 pass and you’re visiting during a partial metro strike, at rush hour.