Crissy Field, The Presidio, Pet Cemetery, San Francisco

The Whisper Catcher
Pet Cemetery, Crissy Field

Surrounded by a white picket fence and shaded by a dozen Monterey pines, the pet cemetery contains a variety of grave markers, most of which mimic those found in official military cemeteries. Most markers are wooden, painted white with large black stenciled lettering. Some headstones provide evidence of the pets’ military lifestyle, listing birthplaces like China, England, Australia, and Germany. Many markers include family names and owners’ ranks, which include majors, colonels and generals. Some contain only a simple epitaph, such as “A GI pet. He did his time.” Like many military cemeteries, there are markers and tributes to several “unknowns”

A pet cemetery is not unknown on an Army base, but there are no existing records for the Presidio’s pet cemetery. Consequently legends have developed alluding to burial grounds for 19th century cavalry horses or World War II guard dogs. The oldest markers date only to the early 1950s, when the Presidio was under command of Lt. General Joseph M. Swing, and some give him credit for the authorization of the pet cemetery. Most pet owners don’t recall any particular Army regulations for pet burial; they simply found a suitable spot for their pet’s final resting place.

The Presidio pet cemetery has enchanted and intrigued Presidio visitors and residents for fifty years. The cemetery provides insight into the loving personal relationships between military personnel and their pets. Its mysterious origins and continued maintenance contribute to its fascination. Finally, the role it played in the establishment of a new form of park management in the national park system adds to its significance and notoriety.