On top of a rolling mountain in Vermont sits a very special chapel. It’s a small white chapel nestled perfectly on 150 acres of beautiful land in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
The mountain is called Dog Mountain and the chapel is simply called the Dog Chapel.
Just like visiting Vermont, visiting Dog Mountain has been on my bucket list for many years and I finally got the opportunity to visit there last weekend.
The story behind Dog Mountain is a compelling one.
The Back Story of Dog Mountain.
Dog Mountain is the creation of the late artist and author, Stephen Huneck. Several years ago Stephen became very ill and was in a coma for 2 months. The doctors didn’t expect Stephen to live and the only one who believed that he would pull though was his wife Gwen. Fortunately, Stephen did pull through and was able to return home to his wife and dogs, Sally and Dottie. Sally and Dottie were by Stephen’s side while he recovered day in and day out and were a big part in his healing process. As you can imagine that near death experience had a profound effect and during his recovery at home, Stephen had the wild idea to build a dog chapel that would celebrate the spirtual bond that we have with our dogs, a place open to dogs and people of any faith or belief system.
And thus the Dog Chapel was built on Stephen’s and Gwen’s mountaintop farm in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Construction began on the Dog Chapel in 1997 and was open to the public in 2000.
In 2010 Stephen Huneck sadly committed suicide. It’s said that Stephen suffered from a long battle with depression and the down fall in the economy at that time, which resulted in declining sales in his gallery, was just too much for him to bear. In order to keep Dog Mountain going Stephen had to sell his artwork and books. Declining sales resulted in him having to let 10 of their 12 employees go at Dog Mountain. Stephen felt like a failure and thought that the business would be better off without him so he took his own life. Despite being overtaken by grief with the loss of the love of her life, Gwen decided to keep her husband’s dream of Dog Mountain alive. She left the chapel untouched after Stephen’s death, except for one addition: On one wall of the foyer she cleared a space for him. A handful of photos from their life together are wedged between those of the Dobermans and Labradors of strangers.
In June 2013 Gwen Huneck committed suicide. The exact reason why she took her own life is unknown as there wasn’t a history of depression or mental illness.
Dog Mountain lives on today with the help of family and friends.
Dog Mountain. Welcome all creeds, all breeds. No dogmas allowed.
Dog Mountain is 150 acres of beautiful rolling land. The mountain is complete with a dog chapel, gallery, dog ponds, beautiful hiking trails and an agility course. Dog Mountain is always open to people and their dogs and there is no leash law. Dogs are free to run, play, swim and meet other dogs and people.
The Dog Chapel.
Quite possibly the most beautiful chapel that I’ve ever been blessed to step inside. It’s a small white chapel with a white steeple that reaches up to the heavens. The door knobs are brass dog heads with the saying “All Creatures Welcome” The inside is a small chapel with stained glass windows, beautiful dog carvings and 4 hand carved pews.
The windows offer messages of love, joy, friendship, play, trust, faith and peace. The walls are not ordinary white walls, they are a memorial of pets past. Lined with layers of notes, pictures, drawings, keepsakes and poems that extend from the floor to the ceiling and above, the walls are a very moving piece of art. It’s an extremely beautiful place of peace and remembrance and anyone who visits is bond to have a very moving experience.
The Stephen Huneck Gallery.
The gallery is housed in a renovated farmhouse and includes many collections of Stephen’s such as woodcut prints, giclees, furniture and a series of children’s books. There’s also other merchandise for sale such as clothing, cards, magnets, doormats and ornaments.
My Experience At Dog Mountain.
When I traveled to Vermont with my sister and daughter we were only there for 1 full day. We were actually going to pick up a sheep for my sister at a local wool festival on Sunday. We arrived in Vermont late Friday and only had 1 day to knock all the things out on our bucket list. Since we were in the southern part of Vermont and Dog Mountain is in the northern part of Vermont we worked our way up. We started off at 7:30 in the morning and our plans were to get to Dog Mountain by 2:00pm.
Well of course that didn’t happen. We made a few wrong turns, stopped at a few too many shops and got hit with some bad weather and finally arrived at Dog Mountain at 4:00pm. Dog Mountain never closes but the chapel closes at dusk and the gallery closes at 5:00…..except on this day there was a note that said the gallery was closing at 4:30.
Of course it’s closing early on THIS day.
We were already pretty close to dusk since it was a dreary day so we were a little rushed for time but as we drove up the mountain I could already feel my heart swell and the tears form. This weird since of peace and sadness took over me as I got out of the car and caught my first glimpse of the chapel
I could see the notes on the walls from outside and I took a deep breath in as I crossed over the threshold.
So many memories on these 4 walls. So many loved pets.
In the background there was light, soothing music playing and I took my place at one of the hand carved pews.
I took a deep breath in and closed my eyes and remembered the pets of my past.
Titan, Storm, Thunder and Plunger. I remembered the good times, I remembered the time that I said goodbye. They were there with me, I could feel it.
I got out my Sharpie and my sticky note and wrote my words for them. The message was short but that’s because I already spoke to them with my heart. I placed the notes on the wall all together and then I went and said a prayer for all the pets that I’ve known that passed this year.
Then I walked around the tiny chapel and read the words that were left by others. The layers of notes on the walls were thick, maybe 5-6 deep. The words, pictures, memories all beautiful.
If I ever doubted there was good in the world before, I have forever found the good here.
Our pets are what makes us good people.
I guess I’ve known that for awhile now but I could actually see it and feel it here.
I thought about what a person Stephen Huneck was to make such a wonderful place. A picture of him sits in the front left and right corner of the chapel. There’s a letter that he wrote in a frame that explains Dog Mountain and the Dog Chapel. This man was able to create a place that you and me couldn’t even dream up on one of our best days but yet he did it amidst the demons in his life. This is a man that I would of loved to of sat down and talked to him for a few hours. To hear about his spirtual bond with dogs and how he used that to build this for all of us that experience that bond.
After we had our time in the Dog Chapel we went into the gallery which was another amazing experience. Mr. Huneck was a very gifted artist and his drawings and wood sculptures are amazing. We over stayed our welcome a bit because there was just so many beautiful things to look at but the woman at the gallery was very nice and accommodating.
After the gallery we went outside to explore the grounds but darkness had already fallen and it was too late to walk the trails which was a big disappointment for me but I guess that means I’ll just have to go back one day with one of my pups and explore.
If you’re ever in Vermont I can’t recommend enough that you take the time to visit Dog Mountain. If you’re able to, bring your dog. I think the experience would be even better with your dog by your side.
You can read more about Dog Mountain and Stephen Huneck here.
Keeping Dog Mountain open and free of charge has never been easy, financially. It’s been a constant struggle but friends of Dog Mountain are determined to make it stable and secure for years to come. Dog Mountain has recently become a 501c3 non-profit organization and you can help fund this amazing place by making a tax-free donation or shopping online at the gallery. They have an amazing collection of books and during our visit I purchased The Dog Chapel book which is beautiful.