There are many ways to memorialize your beloved pet when they pass. You may keep their ashes in an urn, bury them with a solemn grave marker, or plant a memorial garden in their honor. For most of us, our tributes to our furry family members are humble and low key. But what about famous animals – the champions, actors, heroes, and internet sensations that we all know and love? How have they been memorialized – today and throughout history? Let’s take a look at the three main types of famous pet memorials.
Celebrity Animal Graves
When you think of famous pets in history, animal stars of the stage and screen probably come to mind first. While they seemed to belong to Hollywood’s production lots, each one was actually somebody’s beloved pet – and many had interesting backstories that made them even more endearing to their fans.
- Rin Tin Tin – This canine star of the stage and screen had beginnings so humble that he was lucky to be alive. Found by American soldier, Lee Duncan, with his mother and siblings in a kennel on a World War I battlefield in France, Rinty – as Duncan called him – was approximately a week old when he was saved. After Duncan returned home to America, he taught Rinty tricks to perform at dog shows in California. A friend suggested Duncan find him work in the film industry, and the rest is history. His expressive face and ease to work with human producers earned him spots in 27 Hollywood films. After he passed, Duncan initially buried him at his home but eventually took Rin Tin Tin’s body back to France for a more fitting burial in Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, a famous pet cemetery in a suburb of Paris.
- Mr. Ed – A horse is a horse, right? Well, if he’s a talking horse, he might be a little bit more special. Of course, in reality, Bamboo Harvester, the palomino actor, couldn’t talk, but after some time on the show, he learned to move his lips when actor Allen Young stopped talking. While there are a few versions of the story of how Bamboo Harvester died, he is believed by many to be buried on a farm in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, under a grave marker with the television show’s logo engraved on it. To this day, fans still visit the site to pay tribute to the beloved talking horse.
- Smokey Bear – Found as a cub in 1950, badly burned from a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, Smokey Bear became the “spokesperson” for the U.S. Fire Service with a message of fire prevention. To this day, his cartoon likeness is used to remind people that they are responsible for preventing forest fires. When Smokey died in 1976, he was sent back to his homeland. He’s buried in a grave in a corner of what is now Smokey Bear Historical Park – an educational park run by NM State Forestry.
Statues of Famous Animals
As you can see, some celebrated animals are more than just buddies to their people. The most famous pets in history have been loyal, brave, talented, and fast, and those admirable qualities earned them permanent memorials in the forms of sculptures and statues.
Famous Dog Statues
- Greyfriars Bobby – Near one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world stands a statue of a Skye terrier named Bobby. Beloved for his extreme loyalty, even after his master’s death, Bobby became the community pet of late 19th century Edinburgh, Scotland. The most popular version of his story is that he was adopted by a night watchman named John Gray to keep him company on his rounds. After Gray’s death and burial in the Greyfriars Kirkyard – a cemetery in Old Town Edinburgh – Bobby spent the next 14 years at the grave of his master – leaving only to be fed by a local shopkeeper every afternoon. Bobby’s heart-wrenching loyalty earned him a statue outside the cemetery and a red granite marker near his grave inside the cemetery, not far from his master.
- Hachiko – Another infinitely loyal canine is memorialized halfway around the world from Bobby. Hachiko was an Akita who faithfully followed his master, Professor Ueno, to and from the Shibuya Station where started and ended his commute to work. One day, the professor didn’t make the return trip because he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away. Hachiko spent the next 9 years continuing to make the rounds to the station every day hoping to see his master again. After his death, the community celebrated his life as an example of fierce loyalty and erected a statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station. Today, it’s a popular meeting spot for visitors and locals alike.
- Fala – President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a favorite dog, and his name was Fala. Spoiled by most people’s standards, Fala is said to have dined with the president with a bone for breakfast and a full dinner every night. His winning personality also earned him extra treats from the White House staff – so many that he became sick and the staff was asked to stop feeding him extra food. Fala traveled internationally with Roosevelt and was occasionally the subject of controversy. One story says that Fala was accidentally left on one of the Aleutian Islands and the president sent a Navy destroyer back to retrieve him. Even after Roosevelt died, Fala received letters from fans around the country, and he’s likely to be the only presidential pet to be memorialized in statue form – standing next to a statue of FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.
- Willie – General George S. Patton, one of the most colorful and controversial characters of World War II had a gun-shy bull terrier named William the Conqueror, called Willie for short. Adopted by Patton after World War I, Willie was by his master’s side as the Allied troops crossed Europe in their tanks, freeing large regions of Nazi-held territory. Patton once proclaimed that Willie hoped Hitler would be reincarnated as a fire hydrant. He loved Willie so much that he even threw him a birthday party and had dog tags made for him. When Patton died in 1945, Willie was shipped to his widow, and presumably lived out the rest of his life in a much quieter environment. Willie has been memorialized in the 1970 movie about his General and in statue form as well – standing beside Patton at the General George S. Patton Memorial Museum in Chiriaco Summit, California.
- Balto – Siberian huskies are known for their endurance, and one of the most famous dogs in history, Balto, was the ultimate example of that quality. He was the lead on one of the 20 dog sled teams that transported essential antitoxin to Nome to help stop a diphtheria outbreak. Balto’s leg of the relay happened in the dark during a blinding blizzard. The heroic husky kept the team on the trail even when his musher couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. After the expedition, Balto and his team were mistreated for a time but eventually brought to live the good life at a Cleveland zoo. Upon his death, he was taxidermized and displayed in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Hundreds of miles away, a statue of Balto stands in New York City’s Central Park. It was erected in 1925 as a tribute to Balto’s endurance, fidelity, and intelligence. It’s a popular photo spot for children and dog lovers alike.
- Toto – Terry the Cairn terrier was most famously known as Dorothy’s companion Toto in The Wizard of Oz. During the filming of The Wizard of Oz, Terry’s weekly salary was more than what most humans made at the time. The talented girl appeared in a total of 16 films, but none enjoyed the popularity of the classic movie. In fact, due to her fame for the role, her name was officially changed to Toto. She passed away at age 11 and was buried at her trainer’s ranch. Her grave was destroyed during the construction of the Ventura Freeway in 1958, but she wouldn’t be forgotten. A permanent memorial was erected and dedicated to her at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles in 2011.
And a Famous Horse Statue
- Secretariat – Arguably the most famous racehorse of all time, Secretariat was the first Triple Crown winner in over 25 years – a feat that meant the red colt won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes in the same year, 1973. As one of the many tributes to this amazing horse, the Secretariat Foundation erected a bronze statue of him at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Virtual Famous Pet Memorials
With the growth of the world wide web, virtual memorials have made paying tribute to popular celebrity pets achievable from the comfort of your own home. It also means that an animal doesn’t have to have a grave marker or a statue to be eternally memorialized for its humor or skills.
- Grumpy Cat – One of the most famous faces of social media memes, Tardar Sauce became known as Grumpy Cat. Her judgmental countenance was a product of feline dwarfism and lent itself to potentially thousands of images with sarcasm and dry humor inserted as her thoughts and reactions to almost any situation. More popular than most humans, she had more than a million followers on Twitter and two million on Instagram. She was featured in media and advertising campaigns before she died from complications of a urinary tract infection in 2019 at age seven. The world has since mourned her death. To date, over 1,000 people have left virtual flowers on her online memorial.
- Air Bud – Air Buddy rose to stardom before the internet really had a chance to take off, but in death, he enjoys virtual visitors to his online memorial. The star of Air Bud, a movie about a golden retriever who could play basketball in his own way, he inspired children and adults alike. Air Bud passed away just a year after the movie was released, and his owner either spread his ashes on a beach or buried him in an undisclosed location, depending on which story you believe. He is still celebrated online with thousands of visitors laying “flowers” on his virtual grave.