Our History

A rare photo of the esteemed Dr. Samuel Johnson whose simple act of kindness more than one hundred years ago led to the establishment of America’s first pet cemetery.

The Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, Inc. was founded by Samuel Johnson, a veterinarian. It so happened that Dr. Johnson had arranged for himself a style of life common to many people today — he worked in New York City where he maintained a flourishing practice, and he had a retreat in the country in the middle of an apple orchard in the hamlet of Hartsdale, in the town of Greenburgh, Westchester County, New York.

Besides his private practice, Dr. Johnson was Professor of Veterinary Surgery at New York University, and served as the first official veterinarian of the State of New York. He was also a pioneer in the field of animal welfare and was instrumental in founding the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Despite the doctor’s highly successful career, today he is most remembered for something he had never really planned; the first — and finest — pet cemetery in the United States.

One day in 1896, a distressed client of Dr. Johnson’s paid a call to his office with an urgent problem. Her dog had just died and she wanted to give it a proper burial; but there was no way for this to be accomplished legally in the city of New York.

The woman had contemplated trying to find a vacant piece of ground in which to bury the dog, but this would have involved a great deal of subterfuge even if it had not been against health department laws. And besides, the land would most surely have been built on sooner or later, for the concrete and steel metropolis was burgeoning in all directions. After considering the problem, the compassionate doctor came up with a solution. If the woman wanted to make the trip up to Hartsdale, he would be pleased to allow her to bury the animal in his apple orchard. The distraught woman gratefully accepted, and made the sad journey to the little hamlet in Westchester.

While the woman’s name has been lost in the mists of time, and there are no records of the burial and no stone marks its location, we can be certain that her pet is still safe somewhere in the Peaceable Kingdom.

This burial was not intended to be the beginning of a pet cemetery, but a short time later Dr. Johnson innocently gave impetus to the idea. One day, while having lunch with a reporter friend, the doctor casually told the story of the woman’s plight and the dog’s burial. Within a few days, much to Dr. Johnson’s surprise, the story appeared in print. And to his further surprise, he soon found himself being contacted by many people who were looking for a place to bury their beloved pets. It was almost as if he had found a cure for a dreaded disease; this was something people deeply wanted and needed — and greeted with great relief. Before long, Dr. Johnson had set aside a three-acre section of the apple orchard and it began to take the look of a cemetery, dotted with markers and flower arrangements identifying the graves of pets.

By 1905, Dr. Johnson’s orchard had gained enough recognition to be written about in The New York Times. On September 3 of that year a feature story appeared in the paper under the headline “A Canine Cemetery of Three Acres in Which Scores of Pets Are Interred – Hundred of Dollars Spent on Graves and Graves by Their Sorrowing Owners.”

This article spoke of dogs being “laid away with deepest regret and strong affection.” It also reported that, while the cemetery had started with the burial of dogs, and indeed had — and still has — the word “canine as part of its name, it was actually open to cats and other animals.

On May 14, 1914, Dr. Johnson — to the great relief of those who had pets at Hartsdale — incorporated the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery. Until that time there were no guarantees that the cemetery would remain in existence, and whatever attention the graves got depended upon each individual owner. Incorporation meant that burial deeds were issued and perpetual care and the services of a full-time caretaker were provided. It meant that the land would be protected forever as a resting place for the nearly one thousand pets already there, and for the thousands that would join them in the future.

Today, over a century later, this beautiful hillside location, known as The Peaceable Kingdom , is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 pets including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and even a lion cub. And although some of the world’s most renowned people — from Diana Ross and Mariah Carey to the late Robert Merrill and Kate Smith — have their pets buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery — pet lovers from every station of life have had pets buried and cremated here, too. The common thread is that all were special and loved. Generations of pet owners have embraced these pet animals and made them part of their families.

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What kind of records does the facility keep?

Hartsdale records are maintained on a network of eight computers. All burials and cremations are entered on a daily basis. All burial plots indicate the owner’s name and address, the pet’s name, type of care (perpetual or annual) type of flower care (perpetual or annual), plot size, monument information, etc. With respect to cremations all individual cremations include the cremation number, owner’s name and address, pet’s name, attending veterinarian or clinic, date of cremation, date pet’s remains returned, etc. In addition the cemetery maintains copies of burial right certificates, cremation certificates and pet records.

How can I be sure that I am getting my own pet's remains back?

As indicated above the pet holder can always make arrangements to be at Hartsdale for the cremation. However if the owner cannot be present they can be assured that the staff at Hartsdale takes great care in assuring that the pet owner gets the correct ashes back. They accomplish this by verifying/checking the paperwork that is generated from the specific description, case number if applicable, owners name and pets name. This is done at a minimum of three times and the cremation itself is then witnessed by two of our staff.

Can I witness the commencement of the cremation process?

Yes. Hartsdale has what is termed a witnessed cremation. What this entails is that the pet holder makes an appointment to be at Hartsdale at a specific time and date. Upon arriving, for their appointment the pet is placed into a temporary casket and the pet holder is able to spend time with the pet in our viewing room. When the pet owner is ready they may then follow the pet to the crematory and witness the pet going into the unit. Then when the cremation process is complete, normally between 1½ to 3 hours depending on the size of the pet, the pet holder leaves with the cremains.