Cemeteries aren’t just for the dead, the mourning, and edgy teens anymore. With more and more cities rethinking the role their cemeteries play in public life, your local graveyard could be a lovely, quiet spot for a stroll, jog, or even a picnic. Notably absent from this list of wholesome activities: Walking your dog.
While you might personally think any graveyard ghosts would appreciate a visit from your pup, the vast majority of cemeteries in the United States have a clear “no dogs” policy (with the exception of service animals), and for good reason: Most people don’t want dogs peeing and pooping on or near their loved ones’ graves, and chances are good that nature will call at least once during your stroll through the headstones. Should your pup happen to do their business on someone’s actual headstone or grave marker, you’ll look like an irredeemable asshole—especially if you forgot the poop bags at home.
Potential grave soiling isn’t the only reason to keep dogs out of cemeteries. Our canine companions aren’t just cuddly pals; they can also be talented escape artists, ditch diggers, thieves, chewers, and resource defenders. To a dog, grave offerings (especially stuffed animals) can look an awful lot like fun toys, and the people who came to mourn can look like new friends—or worse, potential threats. Are you ready to explain to a stranger why your dog ate the stuffed bunny they just laid on grandma’s grave? I don’t even have a dog and I’m sweating a little just thinking about it.
When it’s actually OK to walk your dog in a cemetery
With that in mind, there are some exceptions to the “no dogs in the graveyard” rule of thumb. Some cities have integrated their cemeteries into their parks program, treating them more like public green spaces than places reserved for private reflection. In one of these cemeteries, dogs may be allowed or even encouraged. For example, Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. has a members-only, off-leash dog run program (with a 4-5 year waitlist, according to their website). It’s very easy to check if your cemetery allows dogs: Look for signage at the entrance, or, failing that, check the website. Any dog policy will be clearly posted in both places.
Of course, there’s technically nothing stopping you from ignoring the “no dogs allowed” signs and bringing yours in anyways. You might get away with it; you might not. An awkward confrontation with a mourner is the most likely form of pushback, but don’t count out the possibility of a lifetime ban or an interaction with the cops—respect is still a big deal in cemeteries, and people don’t take kindly to breaches of etiquette.
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