"Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills."
Recently, I decided to visit the Presidio Pet Cemetery. I wasn't sure how it would feel to see all the tiny headstones that dot the small piece of ground it sits on. Placed just beneath the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, it is a place of peace and quiet reflection. This was a place, where soldiers of the military, stationed at the Presidio, could place their beloved pets, who served them so diligently. That sentiment is reflected over and over, through the epitaphs on the markers and headstones. Some speak of their pets as, "true friends,"while others remain blank, providing no information at all.
I was expecting to find tributes to mostly dogs and cats, but in actuality, there were many different types of pets who were laid to rest here. Hamsters, goldfish, birds, rats, rabbits, cats, and of course, "man's best friend." It was touching to think that soldiers of all ranks in the military, had this little spot to honor their pets in a dignified manner. Some monuments were made from granite, while others were made up of a simple wooden sign, with the animal's name and age written on it.
When I did some research into the cemetery, I found that this quiet, gentle, little place of rest has been the object of controversy over the years. It seems it was even used to make a political point when Representative John J Duncan Jr., (R) of Tennessee, in 1994, referred to the Presidio as the country's "smallest and most expensive national park. Duncan was drawing attention to the fact that the Presidio had been recently converted into a national park, and was therefore yet another burden on the national deficit. He sent out letters to his supporters with a picture of the Presidio Pet cemetery, with the headline, "Is This Your Vision Of A National Park?" All one has to do is walk around the cemetery, and read the headstones, to appreciate the compassion that was shown by the servicemen who had laid to rest their animal friends. It is a tiny, yet very powerful part of the park...it is a place of peace. Is there a more fitting place, for these loyal animals to be laid to rest?
The Presidio became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in late 1994, and it is believed that it was the debate regarding the pet cemetery's merits, that led Congress to establish the Presidio Trust, a public-private government agency which will attempt to make the Presidio self-sufficient by 2013. The cemetery has been officially closed since, 2001, but is being cared for by a nonprofit organization, Swords to Plowshares. Whether or not the tiny parcel of land will remain in the Presidio is unclear, there are plans for possibly building a new approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, which may necessitate the removal of the cemetery.
San Francisco, California
March 29th, 2006