ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. -- From the outside, it looks like a typical white clapboard chapel. Step inside, though, and you’ll find yourself transported to thousands upon thousands of memories about man’s best friend.
“It was it was a labor of love for sure,” said Scott Buckingham, with the nonprofit Friends of Dog Mountain. “They were constantly making trade-offs: ‘eating or should I buy materials for the chapel?’”
“They” are Stephen and Gwen Huneck, husband and wife artists, who bought an old dairy farm outside St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and proceeded to build a chapel in honor of dogs.
Scott Buckingham heads up the nonprofit running it all.
“Steven and Gwen's background was in art, in wood prints and furniture and sculpting, and their primary subject matter was dogs,” he said. “So, when they purchased this property that was their intent, was to make this a place that served dogs and honored our relationship with dogs and pets.”
They finished the chapel 20 years ago.
Since then, with 30,000 people visiting each year from around the country and the world, the walls of the chapel have become a host to personal and emotional notes, cards and photos, inches thick, in honor of departed dogs.
“When that relationship comes to an end, we're left very empty,” Buckingham said. “And what you see here are notes that are trying to capture and express their gratitude for a really, really fantastic relationship.”
One visitor noted, it “brings back memories of my last dog. I’m going to be in tears if I don’t start thinking of something else.”
Yet, it’s more than just a dog chapel. It’s a whole mountain property of 150 acres called “Dog Mountain.” There’s trails for dogs to explore, along with wide open spaces to run in and several ponds to swim in.
“A place where they can come and their dogs can be free and play,” Buckingham said.
Stephen and Gwen Huneck have since passed away, but their artwork – mostly about dogs – lives on in a gallery on the property and, of course, in the dog chapel they built from scratch.
“It's a really profound experience to come here and spend some quiet time reading the notes,” Buckingham said. “You'll see, even when I think about it and I talk about it, it just chokes you up a little bit. There's a whole lot of love in this room.”
It’s an unconditional love captured there to stand the test of time.