Not many know that Rijeka has a pet cemetery, not even Rijeka’s inhabitants. Not much is known about it, even though, apart from Paris and London, it is one of the oldest pet cemeteries in Europe. The only pet cemetery in Croatia is located in Lukovići, on Kozala, and is a unique cultural monument that bears witness to the long tradition of love and care for animals in these areas.
The inhabitants of Rijeka ahead of their time
It proves that Rijeka’s inhabitants were ahead of their time even a hundred years ago, because even then they considered dogs and cats members of their family and treated their death with full respect. Today, 100 years later, not many cities in the world can be proud of something like that.
Who built the cemetery?
Information about the first pet burials has been lost and no exact data about the foundation of Rijeka’s pet cemetery exist. No archives or daily newspapers from the early 20th century mention the cemetery and as such it was not even entered into the land register. Although it is generally believed to have been established sometime around 1903 or 1904, these dates cannot be scientifically verified. The first preserved written records about burials date back to the 1920’s and 1930’s and several gravestones from that period prove that the cemetery really existed at that time. Grave inscriptions are written in Croatian, and a small part in Italian. It is assumed to have been established by hunters who buried their hunting dogs in Lukovići.
The word about the existence of a cemetery spread very quickly even outside Rijeka and Croatia and pet owners from entire former Yugoslavia, as well as from the nearby countries like Germany and Italy which did not have such cemeteries, chose Rijeka for the resting place of their pets. Unfortunately, the exact number and all types of pets that have been buried here remain unknown. According to the stories, even horses were once buried there but no one can prove it. Judging by the preserved monuments, recently mostly dogs and cats, and to a lesser extent rabbits and birds, have been buried here. There are some 60 graves today, some of which contain more than one pet.
However, unfortunately for animal lovers, in the last couple of years Rijeka’s pet cemetery has only had the function of a monument. There have been no burials at Lukovići since 2004 due to the new Law on Veterinary medicine that does not allow the burying of animals in the ground to prevent them being excavated by other animals. According to the new regulations, animal bodies have to be cremated in the designated incinerator plant.
Although the cemetery has not been active for almost ten years, it has not been abandoned. Based on the condition of most of the graves, it can be seen that owners still visit them even today. The flowers are fresh, lantern’s flames can be seen, graves are cleaned and looked after. Some people have planted a rose bush by their pet’s grave, others have placed favourite toys and figures on the graves of their dogs to keep them company in their resting place. A walk through the cemetery is especially fascinating on the Feast of All Saints when the pet cemetery is visited by many people and looks just like any other cemetery, decorated with candles burning for our beloved friends.
The Rijeka Veterinary Station once took care of the pet cemetery on Kozala, but today this function is performed by the City of Rijeka which is, simultaneously, the owner of the land. The City’s municipal services take care of the cemetery which is regularly maintained by horticultural experts as the City’s peculiarity. It is still not known what the future holds for the cemetery. In 2003 the Sports Kennel Club Rijeka started an initiative to proclaim this unique facility a cultural asset, to serve as a testament of an interesting part of Rijeka’s history to the generations to come.
Whilst we are waiting for the cemetery to be protected, it remains the final resting place of Astra, Ajka, Don, Roki, Timmy, Miško, Tina, Pikolino, Linda and other pets. The monuments engraved with the photographs and messages from their owners such as “We will love you forever, thank you for everything” along with many others, bear silent witness to the man’s love for animals.