The lines of graves – a mixture of stone monuments, small statues and wooden crosses – commemorate the likes of "Max," "Jangles," "Snookie" and "Sugar Bear," and have inscriptions like “G’bye buddy” and “God’s finest creature.”
Clearly the animals buried in McClellan’s Pet Cemetery were loved by their owners --- celebrated so much so they were given proper funerals, lavish headstones and markers so visitors would know they were more than just pets. They were friends and family.
If only someone cared for the cemetery that much.
Overgrown, unkempt and abandoned, the cemetery has seen better days, said June Vuyk.
“My goodness, I couldn’t believe how terrible it looked,” Vuyk said, who frequents the site regularly to check the plot where she buried her departed companions – four boxers named Tasha, Sheeba, Arka and Brody.
“You could hardly make out the names or numbers or anything,” she said.
But Vuyk was relieved to find out Saturday that Weaver Girl Scout Troop 20015 was spending the day raking leaves, planting flowers and putting up new wooden crosses at the cemetery as part of a service project.
“I’m the troop leader who always wants to do something a little different,” said Leigh Ficklen. “And it really needed it.”
The troop of about a dozen girls, a couple of parents and a dog named Baxter worked all morning, putting in a little elbow grease to get the park visitor friendly. They cleared walking trails and uncovered buried markers. An animal lover herself, Ficklen said she had been to the cemetery before to read the grave markers and found the park in the same condition as Vuyk did.
“I thought we could clean Weaver park, but anyone can do that,” Ficklen said. “This place really needed to be cleaned.”
After getting permission from the Heritage Chapter 62 of the Woman’s Army Corps, who overlooks the site, Ficklen pitched her idea to the troop.
On Saturday, it looked like Ficklen’s young helpers were enjoying themselves. Eight-year-old Mary Kate Eller said she was excited to find an animal bone while raking leaves and interested in reading about all the pets buried at the cemetery.
“We looked at all the marked graves and read the names,” Eller said, brushing pine needles off a flat gravestone to read the inscription. “This is Willie, he died in 1989.”
Most of the animals at the cemetery were buried in the 1980s when McClellan was still an active military base. But pets still are buried there today. In the far back corner of the site, a new grave marks where a family buried Remington in 2009.
The first pet buried at McClellan was Tiny, “our beloved Boston Terrier,” who passed away in 1975. Betty Benson, the cemetery’s founder, had to bury Tiny in three different locations before she was able to establish a cemetery with Fort McClellan officials.
Speaking to The Star in 2007, Benson said she had no idea how many dogs were buried at McClellan. There were rumors a horse was buried somewhere, but no markers exist. In all, there are more than 150 unmarked plots according to Ficklen.
But one plot Ficklen didn’t need to touch Saturday was Vuyk’s, who said she cleans her graves every time she visits.
Vuyk, a former chief nurse at Fort McClellan said she’s had boxers her whole life. Even when she was in the military and was stationed in Germany, Italy and Belgium, she always brought her dogs with her.
“I don’t have brothers or sisters, my parents are gone, it’s just them,” she said about her two living boxers Addy and Roxy. “And these dogs, they’re just such a joy.”
In the middle of the four grave markers in Vuyk’s plot is a stone memorial dedicated to all of her dogs.
“My pets – they gave me so much and asked for so little,” reads the stone. “No truer nor greater friend had any man.”
Star Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.