War Dog Memorial

Without a doubt the most significant event in the history of the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery occurred in 1923. It was the dedication of the War Dog Memorial. During World War I— The Great War—The War to End all Wars—tens of thousands of military dogs were used for a variety of tasks, from pulling machine guns, to running telephone wire, to rescuing wounded men. Thousands of those dogs were killed. The United States did not have a formal canine program and relied on the British and French to supply dogs. Nevertheless, many soldiers came back from the war with harrowing tales of the services the dogs provided. In 1921, plot owners at Hartsdale mounted a campaign to raise $2,500 for a memorial to war dogs. A design competition was held and was won by Walter A. Buttendorf. His design depicted a German Shepherd perched high on a granite boulder, a helmet and canteen at its feet. The monument was sculpted by Robert Caterson, who had previously worked on a number of buildings in the New York area, including Grand Central Station. Caterson started with a 10-ton rough granite boulder he carved out from his Vermont quarry. The bronze statue depicts the shepherd with a Red Cross vest, alertly looking in the distance and tail straight. Look closely and you’ll see that the helmet at the dog’s feet is dented, indicating that the dog has found a wounded soldier. When the War Dog Memorial was officially dedicated in 1923, the event was attended by representatives of every nation that fought in the Great War. Eventually, the dog soldiers became known as the K-9 corps, and over 12,000 “dogs for defense” served in World War II. Over the years, there have been other memorial plaques placed at the base of the memorial, including one for the dogs who rescued victims from the rubble of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Curiously, when the Oklahoma City dogs could find no more bodies, they became depressed, so some of the rescue workers purposely buried themselves so the dogs could find them and experience the joy of doing what they were trained to do. Buried elsewhere in the cemetery is Sirius, the only dog to lose his life during the search-and-rescue effort following the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, now five acres, is the final resting place for over 70,000 beloved pets. From perfectly preened pedigreed pups to mangy mutts, Hartsdale has room for them all. In 1917, the faithful dog of a coal yard night worker in White Plains, had gotten sick and died. The man just couldn’t bear to “toss him in the street,” which was the practice at the time. He contacted the cemetery, and after being told that a simple unadorned plot would cost $15, he boxed up his old friend and took him to the cemetery for burial. When he arrived at the cemetery, he saw all the beautiful monuments and proclaimed that no dog deserved a monument more than his did. The cemetery allowed him to purchase a $20 tombstone on the time payment plan for 50 cents a week. The tombstone simply reads “Bum; Ever Faithful; At Rest; December 10, 1916.” Reportedly, the 2 x 3-foot plot was one of the best-tended in the cemetery. The coal yard worker’s dog certainly isn’t the only dog whose owner deemed him “top dog.” Just ask Tony LaMura