Remembering Our War and Service Dogs at the Nation’s Oldest Pet Cemetery

Jack E. Kemp 

In the 1920s, the Hartsdale (New York) Pet Cemetery, the nation’s first, put up a stone monument topped by a statue of a German Sheppard in honor of the war dogs of World War I. It was financed by private donations from plot owners, school children, and local townspeople. And so started a growing tradition.

Shortly after World War II, an Army veteran who would only identify himself as “Arthur” and as someone who fought at The Battle of the Bulge, came each Memorial Day to the quiet town north of New York City to lay a wreath at base War Dog Memorial statue. This went on for years until one day, Arthur, who would now be at least eighty-seven today, no longer arrived with his wreath to thank the war dogs of World War II. At that point, the cemetery owners decided to continue Arthur’s tradition of laying a wreath at the memorial, now done in mid-June of each year. This past June 10th, both war and service dogs were so honored. http://www.petcem.com/openhousespecialevents.html

There is an inscribed stone near the War Dog Memorial honoring rescue dogs and their handlers, ostensibly from New York, that went as part of the 1995 FEMA Task Force to Oklahoma City to search the remains of the bombed Murrah Federal Building.  On September 11th, 2001, the North Tower of World Trade Center came crashing down, with a small group of firefighters amazing surviving from inside a sixth floor stairwell. The book Last Man Downchronicles how the group was pushed into basement levels below, to be near a dazed and confused Port Authority Policeman who repeatedly kept talking about his dog, telling the others that someone should go take care of it. The ranking Fire Dept. officer among the survivors, Battalion Commander Richard Picciotto, told him in the heat of the moment, “Enough about the dog. You’ve got guys here with wives and kids. Let’s not memorialize a damn dog!” I have cleaned up the original New York language he used. What Picciotto, a dog lover himself, later found out was that the dog in question was the Port Authority officer’s patrol partner, Sirius, who the only patrol dog who died while serving the City on 9/11. Sirius is now buried at the base of the War Dog Memorial in Hartsdale. In the weeks after 9/11, search and rescue attempts at Ground Zero would involve over 300 police and rescue dogs and their handlers from all over the U.S. and beyond. 

During the Vietnam War and until 2000, the military often euthanized retired K-9s but the death of brave military dog named Robby lead to a public protest and a federal law being passed (“The Robby Law”) which allowed many of these retired K-9s to now be adopted by their former handlers or police officers and others. Robby’s story became the catalyst that brought about that change in the public’s awareness and government policy. Robby’s final resting place is at the base of the Hartsdale War Dog Memorial.

In the formal ceremony this past Sunday honoring these war and service dogs, Reverend David Jones gave an invocation at both the beginning and end of the speeches. In fact, in visiting the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, one is struck by those pet owners who included their religious beliefs at their pets’ graves – and it recalls a related story of a young in-training service dog that shows the limits – and possibilities - of such a sentiment.  

There are some pet grave sites in Hartsdale that contain, along with the pet’s name and the owner’s family name, a religious symbol such as a Cross or a Star of David. In the book Until Tuesday, about a golden retriever that now helps former Iraq War Army Capt. Luis Montalvan, a priest put the “religiosity” of pets into perspective. When Tuesday was still a young service dog in training, he was taken to live with a private family. In order to acclimate the dog to being around crowds, he attended a Catholic Church service. Tuesday sat quietly until it came time for Communion. His handler went forward to receive a wafer, but Tuesday surprisingly also went to the front of the pews, placing his paws on the rail and wanting to get a wafer as well. As one would expect, this caused some laughter in the congregation. The priest refused the dog’s request and walked on, but he did return later to bless the dog for all the service it would render to people in the coming years. This blessing turned out to be quite prophetic. Tuesday would accompany Capt. Montalvan to the Obama Inauguration in Washington where they would meet Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota (D). Franken would then, along with Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia (R),  sponsor the Service Dogs for Veterans Act  http://www.salem-news.com/articles/july232009/franken_service_dogs_...  which would become part of the Defense Bill signed into law to provide funding for a pilot service dog project until 2013. So Tuesday did, through the impression he made, go on to help many veterans and others in need of a service dog – and he also become the subject of a New York Times bestselling book http://www.amazon.com/Until-Tuesday-Wounded-Warrior-Retriever/dp/14...  which would further educate the public about service dogs and Post Traumatic Stress. Since Luis Montalvan currently lives in New York, Tuesday may one day rest alongside the War Dog Memorial statue in Hartsdale as well. He certainly deserves the honor.

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Comment by Wolfy Ghalkhani on June 14, 2012 at 8:53am

God bless all who serve our country!

Comment by Ginny Marriott on June 13, 2012 at 6:46pm

This touching story made my computer screen blurry. 

Comment by Jack Kemp on June 13, 2012 at 1:28pm

Correction: The 9/11 dog Sirius is memorialized with a stone and not buried at Hartsdale. His ashes remain with the owner who has an open invitation to bury them there any time he wants.

Comment by Jack Kemp on June 13, 2012 at 12:25pm

My pleasure, Debrajoe. Going to Hartsdale was wonderful. It is a beautiful small town north of NY City and it was a beautiful day.

Comment by Debrajoe Smith-Beatty on June 13, 2012 at 10:18am

Thank you for this wonderful article.

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