Welcome all creeds, all breeds, no dogmas allowed!
They call us dog people. We happily endure long walks, muddy paws, wet noses, long walks, balls of fur that double up our vacuuming duty, long walks . . .
We stop on the sidewalk and trade stories with other dog people: your breed, my breed, how, when and where they eat, tales of sickness and good health. With very little prodding, we happily expand upon how our dogs came into our lives, and, with tears in our eyes, how they left.
“Most people come for the Dog Chapel,” says the young woman manning the shop at Dog Mountain, the most popular tourist attraction in the northeast part of Vermont.
Sure, I think, nice gimmick that is an add-on to the expansive selection of dog-themed artwork, books and housewares that line the walls and shelving of the shop. But then I step into the chapel and feel the lump in my throat and the overwhelming feeling of loss. It’s been over a decade, but I miss the dogs that were a big part of my life; of my children’s lives.
Covering every square inch of the chapel walls are thousands and thousands of hand-written notes and photographs; scraps of memories and emotions written from visitors to their canine companions. They are called the Remembrances of Dogs Loved and Lost. Daylight streams in through the stained glass windows; the hand-built wooden pews are each bookended by life-size, wooden carvings of dogs, sitting at the ready.
The small chapel and shop sit on a green hillside just outside the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Dog Mountain (a large property of hills, fields, dog ponds and walking trails) is the home of Gwendolyn Huneck. Her late husband, the artist, author and woodcarver Stephen Huneck, maintained a studio in this pretty countryside setting. Huneck is known, statewide, for his series of colourful books featuring Sally, his beloved Labrador retriever.
In 1994, after a near-death experience, Stephen awoke from a two-month coma with the vision of building the Dog Chapel. “A place where people can go and celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs,” explained the artist, who passed away in 2010. “Dogs are welcome and there are always a good supply of treats on hand, a small gesture to thank dogs for all they give us.”
Stephen designed the Dog Chapel to resemble the quintessential, white clapboard Vermont village church, circa 1820. The 150-acre property sits at the end of a dead-end road – it was the artist’s hope that dog owners would bring their dogs with them, walk the forest trails, smell the wildflowers, enjoy the dog ponds and play on the hillside agility course.
There is no leash law on Dog Mountain and no charge to visit. Dog Mountain depends entirely on donations and gift store purchases to keep it free and open to dog lovers and their pets.
It’s rainy on the day I visit Dog Mountain. But I sit in the small chapel for a while, admiring the beautiful stained glass windows and agog at the number of moving tributes people have penned to the dogs in their lives.
After a few minutes, I stand up to leave, but first stop to write my own message to my two departed Labrador retrievers. I walk back to the car, my eyes filled with tears. Thankful for a place like this. Thankful for all my pets brought to my life.
If you visit:
Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel
143 Parks Road, St. Johnsbury, Vermont
Stephen Huneck wrote 10 books inspired by his black Labrador retriever, Sally. All are available through the Dog Mountain website, and at shops across the state of Vermont.
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Josephine Matyas is an award-winning freelance writer with a jonesing for travel, and a passion for the outdoors, food and photography. Her modus operandi is to quickly toss the map out the window once she hits the road.
Located: Kingston Canada
Likes: almost anything outdoors, ecotourism, food and music, history, heritage and culture