Presidio of San Francisco (March 15, 2010) -- The Presidio Trust and the Swords to Plowshares Veterans Academy, located on the Presidio, are kicking off a new partnership that will ensure long-term stewardship of the Presidio Pet Cemetery. The agreement provides for Trust staff to work with residents at Swords to Plowshares’ permanent supportive housing facility, the Veterans Academy, to maintain and improve the cemetery. Activities will include pulling weeds, removing invasive plants, picking up trash, trimming shrubs, and eventually restoring individual grave markers.
Located at the foot of McDowell Avenue, beneath Doyle Drive, and bounded by a white fence, the 450-square foot cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of loyal animals owned by families stationed at the Presidio. The cemetery’s official record is spotty but, by most accounts, it dates to the 1950s when upwards of 2,000 military families lived on the post. There are numerous legends surrounding the cemetery, which some believe was originally a burial ground for nineteenth-century cavalry horses or World War II guard dogs.
“The pet cemetery gives us insight into family life at the Presidio. It is part of the fabric of the park and former military base,” says Craig Middleton, the Trust’s Executive Director. “We are grateful that the veterans of Swords to Plowshares have offered to care for this important part of the Presidio’s legacy.”
A 2007 survey by the Trust found more than 420 headstones dotting the half-acre site and commemorating cats and dogs, as well as birds, hamsters, lizards, and even goldfish. Many of the grave markers mimic those found in military cemeteries and reflect the animals’ military lifestyle—listing birthplaces as far flung as China, England, Australia and Germany. Some include family names and owners’ ranks, while others have a simple epitaph such as: “A GI pet. He did his time” or “Frodo was a good turtle.”
“The veterans who have made their home at the Veterans Academy in the Presidio are excited about the opportunity to help care for the Pet Cemetery,” says Michael Blecker the executive director of Swords to Plowshares. “For many veterans, volunteerism and partnerships like this allow them to give back and connect with the community.”
The cemetery has officially been closed to internments since 1963. While still open to the visiting public, it is currently surrounded by construction fencing to protect it during the reconstruction of Doyle Drive.
Founded in 1974, Swords to Plowshares is a community-based, non-profit organization that provides counseling, case management, employment, training, housing and legal assistance to more than 2,000 homeless and low-income veterans in the Bay Area each year. Housed in the Presidio’s former nurses’ quarters, Swords to Plowshares’ Veterans Academy offers previously homeless veterans a supportive residential community where they can participate in group and individual counseling, and expand their skills with academic instruction and vocational training.
The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to administer the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The areas overseen by the Trust include expansive open space and spectacular views, a 300-acre historic forest, and rare and endangered plants and wildlife. The National Park Service oversees the coastal areas of the Presidio. The park comprises nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, including 469 historic structures that contribute to the Presidio's status as a National Historic Landmark District.