A while back I visited an abandoned pioneer cemetery located smack dab in the heart of relatively wealthy, San Francisco Bay Area town.
It’s a typical old cemetery fallen on hard times. Lots of broken branches scattered all over, several inches of dried leaves blanketing tipped headstones, plus a number of torn up spots where a backhoe (possibly a developer’s) had scraped into sunken markers.
There were also three dogs, one the size of a pony, galloping over, under, and throughout the place for almost twenty minutes, doing their business while the owners casually stood off to one side chatting. (As a point of interest, there’s a large, off-leash dog park not more than 3/4 of a mile away).
When they noticed me photographing the site (and probably thinking I was photographing them), they quickly called the dogs back and skedaddled, leaving the dogs’ residual bodily offerings behind.
I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to old historic cemeteries. I don’t have a problem with joggers or picnickers (just pack out what you packed in), nor do I have a problem with geocaching. I don’t even have a problem with modeling shoots, provided the proper permissions were obtained and there are no funeral services going on at the same time as the shooting. The way I see it, the more people know and understand the stories and carvings and symbols on these unique stones, the more likely they’re going to want to preserve them.
And up until that day, I really didn’t fall pro or con on the dogs-in-the-cemetery issue. However, after this experience I decided that they should be kept out of cemeteries not only out of respect, but also because of public health and personal safety reasons.*
*Note. I’m referring here to cemeteries that have a decent amount of foot traffic and/or are located in relatively busy areas. Anyone who’s ever bushwhacked to a truly abandoned cemetery out in the woods should seriously consider bringing a dog (or two) for personal safety reasons.
Public health. How would you like it if your Eagle Scout wanna-be or your team of cleaning volunteers had to slog through scads of scat in order to complete their clean up projects? Or if you’d finally hunted down your great-great pioneer grandparents and went to visit their graves, only to find them decorated with loops of poop?
Personal safety. I don’t care how much of a lovey-dovey, slobbering pumpkin muffin your Great Dane/pit bull/German Shepherd may be, but when he’s racing toward me at top speed, panting, growling, and slavering away, my first thought’s most certainly not, “Oh, what a cutie pie.” It’s, “Holy moly, where did I put that pepper spray??”
Now I understand there are any number of discussions (both polite and not-so polite) out there on this topic. On a funnier note, the Washington Post ran the Rest in Pees article about how the Congressional Cemetery finally gave in and decided that if it couldn’t beat ’em, it was better to just join ’em.
“…All around us dogs ran free — dozens of slap-happy animals, joyfully relieving themselves on the thousands of hydrant-like objects that have been placed all over, as far as they can tell, for their convenience. It’s all approved and sanctioned, part of an only-in-Washington accommodation reached some years ago between a private graveyard strapped for grounds keeping cash and urban pet owners happy to pay a user’s fee in return for about 35 acres of fenced greenery.”
And yes, I know there are any number of responsible dog owners who do clean up after their pets but the key word here is responsible. The people I saw that day were clearly being irresponsible, ruining it everyone else because they don’t give a crap. Then again, why should they when their dogs have already done it for them?
So there you have it. Cemetery modeling; ok. Cemetery picnics; ok. Dogs running loose in the cemetery so they can do their thing; not ok.