Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paris' Pet Cemetery: Visit Rin Tin Tin

While many flock to Paris to haunt the famous graves of past icons, others revere a different sort of cemetery altogether. It's the Paris Pet cemetery. That’s right...even Rin Tin Tin has his followers; as he should!
Ah, les chien et les chats!

It's true that in Paris, pets are considered one of the family. It's not uncommon at all to see an old mamie in the butcher's shop buying a slice of prime meat for her dinner...and then another one for Fido;  who happens to be sitting at her feet drooling.  Yes...in Paris dogs may go anywhere...even into the Butcher’s shop! What's more, Fido's face shows he knows perfectly well that prime slice will be his for dinner.

While many flock to Paris to haunt the famous graves of past singers, writers and actors at Père Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries, there are those that revere a different sort of cemetery altogether: the Paris Pet Cemetery. Today we take a look at Le Cimetière des chiens d'Asnières-sur-Seine (The Dog Cemetery of Asnières-sur-Seine); though far more than dogs are put to rest here.

This cemetery is found just outside the border of central Paris, in the north.  The history of this cemetery commenced much differently than many of the other more human-variety passages to eternity. In a sanitary gesture way ahead of its time, a law in 1898 forbid people from just throwing their dead dogs into the streets, the trash or the Seine river. Thus the Pet Cemetery of Paris was formed by Georges Harmois and Marguerite Durance in 1899, and they called it the Société Française Anonyme du Cimetiére pour Chiens et autres Animaux Domestiques (The Anonymous French Association for the Cemetery for dogs and other animals Domestics). I’m sure we can all imagine the reduction in smell and flies such would give the Parisian citizens, and so this law was vehemently upheld ever since.

From the time of its formation, a variety of animals have been buried there, including cats, dogs, birds, rodents, fish, monkeys, and many others.  So the name of the cemetery hardly does justice to the many different species that rest in peace there under their little miniature headstones.    The gates to the cemetery were designed by architect Eugene Petit in Art-nouveau style, and the cemetery itself is quite well kept, with little headstones that overlook the Seine River under ancient trees.

While over 40,000 animals have been buried there over the years, there are those in it that get more attention than others.  Rin Tin Tin is just one famous example.  American movie lovers of the 20s era will know of this famous canine.   But do they know that he is buried here? Here's the story for those who don't. During WWI Lee Duncan, a US soldier, found a scared and shocked puppy, Rin Tin Tin, in a dugout. He brought him back to the states and the rest is history. It’s been rumored that Rin Tin Tin pulled Warner Brothers out of potential bankruptcy and his fan clubs soared in the 20s during his years of stardom on the big screen.  According to those now in charge of Rin Tin Tin’s lineage, his is traced back to one of the first registered German Shepherds in 1899.  Rin Tin Tin wasn’t only a movie star, he also worked for Red Cross with his owner Duncan  before his HollyWood fame came to pass. It’s said that Rin Tin Tin actually died in the arms of Jean Harlow (lucky dog!) on Duncan’s front lawn.

Why would Rin Tin Tin have been removed from HollyWood in the USA to be buried in France? Why, because Rin Tin Tin was French!  When Rin Tin Tin died of old age Lee brought him back to his country of origin to be buried.  When you enter the cemetery they give you a little map of where to find all the famous gravestones. But, just like trying to find Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise, we found it not so easy to find Rin Tin Tin’s site...that is because the map isn’t exactly accurate. But it’s still quite close, and if you walk around a little you do eventually find it.

But there are other famous graves too, including an entire section just for police dogs, some famous French film canines, and more.  There is a memorial to a stray dog that was killed in front (serendipitous?) of the cemetery by a car in 1958, as he was the 40,000th animal to be buried there. As you walk around you’ll see that there is much more buried here than just dogs. There are also cats, sheep, chickens, horses, a monkey called Kiki, and other domestic pets passed on to a land of eternal tummy rubs and owner's food.

Each animal has its own little head-stone, or sometimes families of animals are in the same spot. There was even a kitty mausoleum, with a cat-shaped window in it.  Kiki the Monkey has his photo prominently on the front of his memorial with this inscription, “Dors ma cherie.  Tu fus la joie de ma vie.” (Sleep my dearest. You were the joy of my life.)What I found particularly interesting were the animal names. I’m from the USA, and of course we have specific names that are for dogs, cats, birds, etc.  Here I noted that many of the pet names ended with a “ou”. Such as: Millou, Pilou, Tinou, ChouChou, Chiffou and Chichou.  Others were ones I recognized, such as: Cowboy, Poppy, Brutus, Fifi, Rufus, Dick and Bob. (Who names their dog Bob??)

Many of the grave sites were done up with flowers and candles and little gifts and trinkets. If it weren’t for the dog and cat photos on the headstones you might easily mistake this as a regular cemetery anywhere in France, as the usual cultures of flowers and preservation are the same.

Finally, at the very back of the cemetery you’ll note a little house. This is the cat house where stray cats are living. Yes, they have their own little house at the pet cemetery. At first I think this isn’t my own first choice of real estate, but then I remember that these guys, and their dead ancestors, all have a prime water-front spot on the Seine!  So when you see that little critter scamper by while walking among the little mini pet-headstones, don’t be alarmed, as it’s not a ghost. It’s a live cat that resides there.

When you’ve seen all there is to see here, be sure to head out of the main gates of the cemetery, and then on your right, head down the stairs that take you to the walk-way that goes along the Seine River. There are places to stop and sit and eat your lunch, and it’s very pleasant on the water when it’s nice out.

Times and Entry Fees

Open in the summer, March 16th to October 15th, from 10am to 6pm.
Open in the winter, October 16th to 15th of March, from 10am to 4:30pm.
3.00 euros per person.

Directions: 
So how can you get to this animal necropolis?  It’s easy.


Cimetière des Chiens
4 Pont de Clichy, 92600 Asnières-sur-Seine, France

From anywhere in Paris get yourself to the metro-line #13 in the direction of Gabriel Péri Asnières-Gennevilliers.  Be careful...this is one of the few metros in Paris that has trains going to different final destinations. Look at the front of the metro when it arrives and make sure it doesn’t say:  St.-Denis Université.  You don’t want to go there.  Make sure it reads Asnières-Gennevilliers.

You will get off at the metro stop Marie de Clichy.  It’s near the last stop on that line, and takes you all the way north, just outside the Paris center to a suburb called Clichy.

After you get off at this metro stop, you’ll walk down Rue Martre in the direction of traffic towards the Seine. It’s about a 15 minute walk, so you won’t see the Seine right away.  You should pass a Franprix if you’re going in the correct direction.  And if you're hungry already, you can stop at Franprix (a grocery store)  or the Boulangerie (Baker) to get lunch... since you’ll be over next to Parc Robin on the Seine, you should picnic after you visit the cemetery.

You will soon come to the Pont de Clichy (Clichy Bridge). You’ll see that there is now a higher bridge, and this lower one with cars that you’re on. The higher one is for the metro that comes out from underground to pass over the Seine.  Stay on the lower one on the right hand side in the pedestrian crossing, and after you’ve walked across the bridge, just on the other side  of the Seine, you’ll see a little pedestrian exit to your right. Follow that around and under the bridge on to the other side and then walk on to the cemetery.

The cemetery is just on the left of this bridge in Parc Robinson on the Seine River.  You can’t miss it, with its large arched entrance and grand art nouveau gates.

What to do after: When you’re done at the Dog Cemetery you can go walk along the Seine in Parc Robinson and have a little picnic.

Get yourself to line #13 going north to Asnières-Gennevilliers to arrive - cross the bridge over the Seine, et voila.

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