The history of the cemetery is as interesting as the stories of the pets it contains. Before it came into existence, dead animals were usually thrown into the Seine, dumped around the city or discarded with rubbish. The health implications for a crowded city were immense, and a law came into force in 1891 requiring that corpses of domestic animals be interred at least 100 meters (328 feet) from habitation and that they be covered with soil at least one meter (3.28 feet) deep. And so the Anonymous French Society of the Cemetery for Dogs and Other Domestic Animals was founded on May 2, 1899, by attorney Georges Harmois and journalist and feminist Marguerite Durand. The cemetery, the first of its kind in the world, was officially opened that summer.
Marguerite Durand was an incredible character, an actress and rebel with multiple causes. She played many roles at the Comédie-Française, and then turned to journalism—a career move that was to change her life. After being sent by Le Figaro on an undercover assignment at an international feminist conference, she became a staunch advocate of women’s rights, publishing a daily feminist newspaper, La Fronde, in 1897. A leading suffragette, she organized several trade unions for female workers, lobbied for women to be involved in law and politics, and dedicated her life to promoting women’s rights. Her other passion was animals, and she was often seen strolling around Paris parks with her pet lion, Tigre, whom she had raised as a cub in her garden. (Tigre is also buried at the cemetery that Durand was responsible for creating, but, try as I might, I couldn’t find her. It’s a good excuse for another visit next time I’m in Paris!)
The grand entrance to the cemetery, designed by renowned Parisian architect Eugène Petit, features a portal in Art Nouveau style, flanked by two entrances for pedestrians. After its creation, the cemetery became increasingly successful, but later developed chronic difficulties. It closed briefly in 1987 and endured various changes of ownership and rescue plans; since 1997, it has been managed by the Asnières town council, and its future seems secure.
In a country renowned for its adoration of le chien, it’s not surprising that people have created such a picturesque place in which to celebrate their dogs’ lives. As one inscription notes, “Lover of the sea, may the Seine cradle your final repose.”