I recently had the pleasure of visiting a very unique spot in Paris – a place I hadn’t even known existed. A friend had announced he was going to take me to an interesting surprise location, and since at that time museums, cinemas, restaurants and cafés were still closed, I knew it would be someplace outdoors. So I made sure to wear some walking shoes and embarked upon this mysterious adventure with enthusiasm.
Our destination turned out to be just outside the city limits, in the suburb Asnières-sur-Seine to the north of Paris. We took metro line 13, exited at the Gabriel Péri station, and walked for a bit until my friend stopped and pointed to a large gate topped by an elegant Art Nouveau stone arch with the words “Cimetière des chiens” carved into it. A dog cemetery!
I was delighted by my friend’s choice, as he knew I would be. The current full name of this cemetery is “Cimetière des chiens et autres animaux domestiques” – a cemetery for dogs and other pets. In reality there are (reportedly) now more cats than dogs buried here, as well as a few other species including a horse, a lion, a turtle, a monkey, a rabbit or two, some birds and even a bee.
It was founded in 1899 by feminist journalist and stage actress Marguerite Durand together with author Georges Harmois. It’s claimed to be the world’s first pet cemetery of the modern age. If you understand French, I recommend this little documentary on YouTube about the site from the 1990s. It’s a bit dated and the quality isn’t always super great, but it provides an interesting look into the site’s history and also shows a funeral home for animals as well as details of other options including cremation and even taxidermy.
For me, this cemetery was a touching testament to the love that can exist between humans and other animals. I was very moved by the efforts people have made to honor the memory of their beloved companion animals in a world where, on the whole, animals are seen merely as expendable commodities. Of course, here as in the rest of society, a clear distinction can be seen between “pet” animals (the cute and cuddly ones) and “food” animals (mainly absent from this cemetery), but with the importance it places on animals of any kind, the site still contains the germ of something that could spark deeper thought in humans, leading us to question why a place of this kind is an exception rather than the rule.
On a personal level, as I myself have lost two very dear companion cats (Kitty and Camilla, in 1994 and 2012), strolling among the diminutive graves of this cemetery stirred up some emotions. My departed loves are buried in unmarked spots behind the houses where my parents were living at the time and I couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to have them someplace I could still visit, with small headstones in their memory. I was also just very touched by how loved the animals in this cemetery clearly were and may have shed a tear or two as I read their headstones.
Below is a selection of the graves that caught my eye, with translations of some of the inscriptions. Click on any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.
This gravestone, installed near the front gate by the cemetery’s management, reads “On May 15th, 1958, a stray dog died at the entrance of this cemetery. It was the 40,000th animal to find its final resting place in the Asnières Dog Cemetery.”
Center: “Time heals wounds but doesn’t erase memories.” Right: a large number of the gravestones have a photo of the animal on them. When they didn’t, I could sometimes guess at the animal’s species based on its name.
“In memoriam. Thank you for your love.”
Center: this cat’s guardian described her habit of dunking her paw into her water bowl and licking it to drink, and also transferring her dry food from the bag into her dish before eating it. Right: an old grave belonging to a Pekinese.
“In doggie heaven”
This very elaborate monument testifies to the great love someone had for this cat who lived to the grand old age of 20. The rather poetic inscription reads “Xixi dear, I am thinking of you! The world exists only for a cat. I try in vain to learn how you fare. You see me. I don’t see you. An image of me is reflected in your eyes. Life. Death. For me… no more mystery. My eyes follow a beam of light through the darkness. I guide you towards eternity. How my heart longs for you! Alone but ready to protect you, to give you happiness, peace and wisdom. Your mother who loves you.”
“You had beauty without vanity. Strength without insolence. Courage without ferocity. Intelligence without arrogance. And all the virtues of humans without their depravities.”
The cemetery is also the final resting place of some “foreign” animals (or, like my own Sésame and Mochi, French animals with a foreign human?).
Many of the graves had an adorable little statue of the animal or something representing its species (cat or dog).
This mini-mausoleum, modeled after the human ones you see at Paris cemeteries such as Père Lachaise or the Montmartre cemetery, is one of the cutest things at this site. Left: person for scale. Center: just as dusty and cobwebby as their counterparts in human cemeteries, the inside of this mausoleum features a photo of the deceased tabby. Right: the cat’s name – Plume (Feather) – and birth and death dates.
Some of the graves included not only photos of the departed animal but also of the animal’s human guardian.
Left: a collection of what must have been the dog’s favorite toys. Right: many cats’ graves had these heart-melting feline headstones.
Top, left and right: more sculptures identifying the graves’ inhabitants.
I love this doghouse-shaped headstone.
Left: one of the oldest headstones I saw, hard to read but dated October 1925. Right: old headstones converted into steps, presumably after the guardian’s family stopped paying for gravesite upkeep.
Left: the grave of a monkey (“Sleep, my darling. You were the joy of my life”). Right: the very smallest grave, belonging to a bee that is apparently the mascot for a movement to save the bees. Its headstone reads “Perished from pesticides while trying to save its species.”
The cemetery is in a very peaceful location overlooking the Seine. If I were a kitty or a dog, I would be happy to rest in peace in this spot.
Admission to the cemetery was €3.50 per person on the day that we visited. For more information about opening hours, visit this site (link to English version at the bottom right of the homepage).
And to learn even more, if you read French, you may be interested in this book devoted to the cemetery.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of armchair travel, especially if pandemic restrictions continue to keep you from visiting France. You may also wish to add it to your list of things to see when you do come to Paris!