Western Cemetery To Be Restored With Respect and Dignity
By Paul O'Neil, May 23, 2001
This is the third and final article in a series describing the
situation between dog-owners and the protection of Western Cemetery
in Portland, Maine.
[Editor's note, see Paul's first
article, and his second article.]
On Wednesday February 21 the Portland Maine City Council took a
final vote on the issue of the use of the historic Western Cemetery
as an off-leash dog run. By a vote of 9 votes to zero they voted
to ban dogs from the cemetery altogether. This vote will clear the
way for its restoration as a historic cemetery rather than a dog
They arrived at this decision after a very long and often controversial
and emotional campaign and debate. The councilors agreed that no
issue had ever generated such controversy and debate. The dog owners
argued that they had made many improvements, created a sense of
community and had driven rampant crime and the powers of darkness
from the cemetery. Although they may have created a sense of community
and friendship among their "dog community", the fact is they made
very few improvements, they were extremely disrespectful, and the
cemetery suffered serious deterioration under their use. The Western
Cemetery has never been a dangerous crime area. Portland policemen
and former Portland policemen are hard pressed to recall any crime
within the cemetery beyond the unfortunate vandalism and an occasional
teenage drinking party. There was a period in the 1970's when homeless
people set up camp in the cemetery and vandalized some of the tomes
to find shelter. Those homeless people could hardly be considered
the powers of evil and darkness and it was the Portland Police who
evicted them. One of the few if any renovations the dog owners made
to the cemetery was to install doggy poo poo bag dispensers. These
dispensers were flanked on each side by barrels full of "whatever"
to greet visitors at all three entrances. These contraptions are
not what most people would consider an improvement.
|These lovely doggy poo poo bag dispensers will
be history after June 1
Last year the Portland City Council hired Victor Walker a consultant
from the Boston based Walker-Kluesing Design Group to create a master
plan for the restoration of the Western Cemetery. Mr. Walker's recommendations
were for a restoration as a cemetery allowing dogs on leash only.
The City Council however was overwhelmed by the outrage over the
cemeteries current use and abuse as a dog park and by the very deep
and nationwide respect and reverence for cemeteries. The result
was an absolute ban of dogs in the cemetery.
When the Ancient Order of Hibernians originally planned their campaign
to return dignity and respect to the cemetery they embarked with
mixed feelings. Many Hibernians were dog owners and almost all had
been dog owners at some point in their lives and they could understand
how wonderful it must be to have the use of an appropriate dog park.
All however agreed that a cemetery could not possibly ever under
any circumstances be an appropriate site for an off leash dog run.
It was very difficult for dog owners to argue in favor of, or try
to justify the degradation, disrespect and desecration that takes
place when a cemetery is used as an off leash dog run. While attending
the first public meeting held on the "dog run" issue the Hibernians
listened to the absolutely and utterly absurd excuses being offered
and the inaccurate and exaggerated statements being made about the
cemetery's recent history. It was that point in time that it became
obvious they would be involved in this campaign until a resolution
to this issue was found that was favorable to the cemetery.
Although there may have been some severe criticism of the dog's
owners and the city council nobody ever tried to place any blame
on the dogs or suggest that an appropriate dog park was not a good
idea. The message through this whole campaign was "it's a cemetery
not a dog park" and with the help of the readers of this web site
and the literally hundreds and hundreds of e-mails and letters you
sent, we in no small way got that message across. We let the city
know that a cemetery, especially the Western Cemetery was not an
appropriate site for an off-leash dog run. There was no compromise
as far as the cemetery is concerned. As of the first day of June,
The Western Cemetery will once again be a dignified cemetery and
a fitting place for our forefathers to rest. There is a master plan
in place for the cemetery's restoration and grass will once again
be able to grow over the graves in the part of the cemetery now
used as a doggy Frisbee field.
We should all be pleased and look at what we have been able to
accomplish with pride because it is not very often during this type
of effort that everybody can come out ahead. On February 21 the
city council not only banned dogs from the cemetery but also agreed
to appoint an off-leash area committee to search for alternative
dog park sites and as of this writing they have narrowed it down
to the two best possibilities.
campaign has had some extra significance for the Ancient Order of
Hibernians because many of their ancestors are buried in the "Catholic
Ground" of the Western Cemetery. They were immigrant survivors of
the "Great Hunger" in Ireland during the 1840's. Many of these Irish
immigrants found it very difficult to find peace, rest and security
in life but now at least they may rest in peace after death.
We would again like to thank you all for your support and ask that
everyone who sent an e-mail to the city council take the time to
write another one to thank, congratulate and praise the Portland
City Council for making the right decision. We must remember the
city council was under extreme pressure. The dog owners were able
to post fliers on the cemetery gates and up to two hundred of their
friends could read them each day. This made it easy to have a very
strong turn out at all of the public hearings. The dog owners would
get up and say "we're dog owners, the Western Cemetery is our dog
park and we vote!" The Portland City Council in spite of this and
other pressure made the right decision and plan to do what is right.
To this day the Portland Press Herald and the dog owners just can't
seem to understand that "it's a cemetery not a dog park!"
- Paul O'Neil
Paul is the President of Division 1 of the Ancient Order of
Hibernians in Portland Maine, Contact Paul at: Galway376@cs.com