Visitors to the SF National Cemetery will notice clean headstones lined up as though the distance between each was measured with a ruler… military style. The inscriptions are precise and ordered… memorials to those who served are peppered throughout the site.

Less than a mile away, under the ramp to one of the world’s most photographed bridges, is a more “human” and imperfect Pet Cemetery used by the families of those who served at Fort Mason. In contrast to the human version, this cemetery is undocumented, small, chaotic, colourful, and now being quietly overtaken by the plants that once decorated the graves. Less than a few meters above the graves is an intense construction project worth millions of dollars.

People fought long and hard to save the Pet Cemetery and it now sits protected by large iron beams and cement slabs under the site of a new Golden Gate Bridge approach; construction finishes in 2015 and for now, the graves are left untended and closed to the public.

The military connection is obvious. Some pet names are distinctly German (Herr Bitt Bins), others give reference to an old military comic (Beetle Bailey and Sarge), and other pet names incorporate military terminology (Snafu). All these animals are buried in an “unofficial” Pet Cemetery with an unknown origin. Some say it started in the 1950s, others say the site was already there when the Golden Gate Bridge was originally constructed in the 1930s (Pp. 190), and this photographer found a grave dating to 1925 [link removed].

As a former Base Brat, I found the Pet Cemetery rather moving. It’s more than just a place to bury your animal, rather it’s a monument to service life and the importance of animals to that life. Military families can move around rather suddenly and frequently and the only constant in your life is your family, which includes pets. And, it seems rather sad to me to have to leave behind one member of that entourage… one who has followed you around the world. A poem on a grave near the entrance best illustrates this:

Samantha (Spring 1984 – Fall 2000)

    A true military cat
    She started in Florida
    Moved on to Michigan
    From sun to snow she still ran
    Across the ocean to Germany
    She settled in better than many
    On to St. Louis
    Where she learned to sing blues
    Out to California
    No one could have warned her
    Here is where she will stay
    Though her family must move away.