Dog Chapel: A Sanctuary of Loving Pet Memories

This special place was created as a sanctuary of reflection to remember and honor departed dogs.

Posted in , Oct 29, 2018

Dog Chapel: A Sanctuary of Loving Pet Memories

Imagine 150 acres on a Vermont mountaintop where leashes are optional and dogs are free to run, sniff, swim and play. Is this dog heaven? Close. It’s Dog Mountain, established by the late artist and woodcarver Stephen Huneck and his wife, Gwen, in the 1990s. The parklike property in St. Johnsbury includes an art studio, a gallery, hiking trails and ponds. But it’s the Dog Chapel that’s the biggest draw for the estimated 35,000 annual visitors.

In 1994, a fall down a flight of stairs left Huneck in a coma for two months. He had to learn how to walk, write and carve again, but he made a full recovery. His dogs were his “round-the-clock caregivers,” he wrote. “They were my guides back to life.” That experience inspired him to build the chapel, a place where people could “celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs.”

“The chapel is the spiritual center of Dog Mountain,” says Scott Buckingham, executive director of Friends of Dog Mountain, the nonprofit that oversees the property and gallery. “It’s a container for all the tenderness and love that we experience with our pets. When you walk in, it feels like most other chapels. It’s a place of reflection.”

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But that’s where the similarities end. Modeled after an 1820s New England church, the Dog Chapel has stained glass windows depicting dogs and wooden pews with oversize canine carvings at each end—all Huneck’s artwork. Most striking are the thousands of photos and handwritten messages of love that visitors have posted on the interior walls.

Huneck, best known for his whimsical woodcuts of dogs, wanted to create a sanctuary where people could come to remember and honor their departed dogs. What started as a small remembrance wall in the foyer of the chapel has grown to proportions that Buckingham believes are beyond what the artist ever envisioned. With messages covering every inch of every wall, “the chapel grabs your heart, holds you still and wraps you with loving memories of pets,” he says. It’s a special place where loyal friends are never forgotten.

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