The Dog Chapel
St. Johnsbury, Vermont
Stephen Huneck was lucky. He may not have felt that way when he "died" from Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome in 1998, but he did not stay dead. Upon recovery, he vowed to have a chapel built -- one where any creature could come and feel welcome. It was no surprise that he chose dogs as his design theme, since Huneck was already a successful artist and illustrator of playful dog prints and dog rugs and dog books.
The oddball Dog Chapel helped thrust Huneck into some very deep clover. In the tradition of Sam Butcher's Precious Moments Chapel, it is a monument to one's own creativity and commerce.
Opened in 1999, the Dog Chapel sits on a flower-speckled hillside -- Dog Mountain -- next to a large gift shop/gallery where one can purchase Stephen Huneck prints ($85 and up) and rugs ($150 and up) and furniture ($750 and up) and copies of his The Dog Chapel book ($24.95).
Around Dog Mountain are a scattering of sculptures -- canine heads mounted on pillars, a business-suited guy walking his dog, and other art objects. The nondenominational Chapel resembles an early19th century white clapboard church, save for the winged dog mounted on the steeple. Inside it is sparse but pleasant, seats a dozen or so, and is a work of art rather than a place of worship.
Its stained glass windows -- variations of Huneck prints of dogs mooching ice cream and other cute antics -- are its decorative highlight. But the public can participate as well; the walls of the Chapel's foyer are covered with photos of dead pets, thumbtacked in place along with messages from mourning owners written on index cards. Most are warm remembrances, with the occasional terse declaration ("She had kidney stones.").
Huneck is popular with the locals; five of the six cars in the parking lot were Subaru wagons with roof racks and VT plates.
Update: Stephen Huneck committed suicide in February 2010. The Dog Chapel was taken over by his wife, Gwen Huneck, who committed suicide in June 2013. The Dog Chapel has vowed to remain open.