In 1899 feminist writer Marguerite Durand and lawyer Georges Harmois opened a pet cemetery at Asnières-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris. Dead dogs and other pets could now “rest in peace” on the banks of the Seine, depending on how much their owners were willing to pay: in 1902 fifty francs bought a plot for 10 years, whilst 100 francs provided one for 30 years.
The meaning of such late-nineteenth century pet cemeteries is unclear. Kathleen Kete treats the Asnières-sur-Seine cemetery as an expression of bourgeois sentimentality and celebrations of canine fidelity. The boundaries between human and animal were stretched but ultimately kept intact as burial services were forbidden in the pet cemetery. Philip Howell, meanwhile, sees the pet cemetery at Hyde Park, London, as a reaction against scientific “progress” that relied, in part, on animals for dissection and vivisection. The cemetery was also an attempt to extend notions of kinship and moral community beyond human members of the family: some believed that owners and pets would be united in the afterlife. Either way, it’s clear that the apparently marginal site of the pet cemetery offers a window into nineteenth century middle class culture, especially its veneration of the domestic.
In the rest of this blog, I present some photos of the Asnières-sur-Seine cemetery, which I visited a few years ago. Graves have been added since the late-nineteenth century, including that of canine film star Rin Tin Tin, showing how the human desires for pet cemeteries did not die in the nineteenth century. In an ironic twist, the cemetery is now home to feral cats, meaning that living stray cats live amongst dead pet dogs.