Why We’re "Mutts" About Dog Mountain

Posted by Erin Ballinger

A visit to Dog Mountain is a day well spent with your furry friend. Located on a private mountaintop in the breathtakingly beautiful town of St. Johnsbury in Northeastern Vermont, Dog Mountain is a 150-acre farm that has been transformed into a doggy playscape, complete with swimming ponds, hiking trails, an agility course, an art gallery full of dog-related artwork, and the only chapel for canines in the world. The Dog Chapel celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020 ... but let’s start from the beginning.

Stephen and Gwen Huneck with their dog, Sally.Photo by @Stephenhuneck

The Origins of Dog Mountain

Stephen Huneck was a successful folk artist whose dog, Sally, served as his muse. He and his wife, Gwen, bought the farm property and turned it into a creative enclave with the barn serving as his studio in 1995. Following an accident that left Huneck in a coma for two months, he began his first series of woodcuts based on his furry best friend. Celebrating his renewed vigor for life, he carved his first woodcut, "Life Is A Ball," which remains one of the most popular and iconic of Huneck's works. Building the Dog Chapel soon followed.

In 2000, the chapel was introduced to the world as a symbol of peace, love and remembrance. Today, this touching memorial is visited by thousands of people and pups who come to reflect and post messages and photos of their departed pets. The chapel's Remembrance Walls are covered in layers of heartfelt notes to furry family members who have passed on.

Paying respects at the Dog Chapel.Photo by Melissa

Huneck describes his vision for the Dog Chapel in the introduction to his 2010 book, “Even Bad Dogs Go to Heaven - More From the Dog Chapel:”

As soon as the Dog Chapel was open to the public, I invited everyone who came to visit to put up a photo of their departed dog and to write a few sentences about what their dog meant to them. I set aside a wall in the foyer of the Dog Chapel, which I called the Remembrance Wall, for this purpose. I had envisioned maybe someday having the foyer filled top to bottom with dog pictures. I never anticipated the whole building - every single space - covered with photos and words of remembrance, as the chapel is today.

Indeed, the Dog Chapel is sacred ground for thousands of dog lovers. It’s a place of deep love, sorrow but also warmth and connection with those who forever cherish their best friends. It’s a place to grieve, but also to celebrate the bond between dogs and their owners.

The sign says it all.Photo by @Cassibee.cpdt

But Dog Mountain is more than its chapel. “I wanted people and dogs to have the most fun they possibly could,” Stephen wrote. “To this end, I have put in hiking trails, ponds for dogs to swim in, and an agility course for them to play on. In the winter folks come and snowshoe with their dogs, enjoying the pristine surroundings and the spectacular views.”

Stephen went on to write 10 books inspired by his black Labrador Retriever, Sally, and had tremendous commercial success with his art. He was even featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. However, this did not translate into financial success, and he was always struggling to pay his debts. After a life-long battle with depression, tragically the artist took his own life in 2010. His widow, Gwen, was determined to keep Dog Mountain going in his memory, but she followed him in June of 2013. Friends of Dog Mountain, a non-profit organization established in 2015 by family and friends of the Hunecks, is committed to ensuring that Dog Mountain, the Stephen Huneck Gallery, and the Dog Chapel will not just survive, but thrive.

Having a ball at Dog Mountain.Photo by Mercy

Why Fido Will Love Dog Mountain

Dog Mountain is always open to the public. The unspoiled haven is covered with hiking trails and dog ponds where pups are free to frolic leash-free. Wildflowers bloom in the meadows in the summer, and snowshoeing is a popular pastime in the winter. Be sure to visit The Stephen Huneck Gallery during your visit and purchase a piece of art as a treasured souvenir to help Dog Mountain remain free for all visitors. You can also make a donation or purchase an Annual Park Pass to become a pack member for $30.

Bring Fido to Dog Mountain, home of The Stephen Huneck Gallery and you’ll immediately be greeted by a sign saying, “Welcome. All creeds. All breeds. No dogmas allowed.” So, take off your pup’s leash and allow him to run, play and swim wherever he wants in this 150-acre doggie paradise. Sit on one of the hand-carved pews inside the Dog Chapel and write your own message to a dearly departed dog friend, or just hug your canine companion a little tighter as you read some of the memorials.

Several times a year, The Stephen Huneck Gallery on Dog Mountain hosts unforgettable Dog Parties like the Puppy Love Party at Valentine’s Day, Sally’s Holiday Party, or one of the quarterly celebrations (next up, the Fall Dog Party) to mark the changing of the seasons. Hundreds of people and their pooches attend these festivities, where dogs are free to play, swim, greet one another, and beg for treats. Everyone has a ball!

Come one, come all!Photo by @Stephenhuneck

Travel Tips

Dog Mountain is open 24/7, 365 days of the year. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and needed to keep the haven heavenly for pups. Arrive early to enjoy the trails at one of the best dog parks in solitude with your pooch in the crisp morning air. After building up an appetite, grab a bite to eat at nearby Riley’s Fish Shack. Your pup will be welcomed on the patio while you get a taste of classic New England cuisine like chowder, whole-belly clams, haddock, scallops and more. If you’re visiting from out of town (or would love a staycation), check in at The Wildflower Inn. Located less than 30 minutes from Dog Mountain in Lyndonville, this quaint, pet-friendly bed-and-breakfast is situated on 570 acres of Vermont farmland filled with nature trails for you and Fido to explore.

Have you been to Dog Mountain with your pup? Share your experience with us! Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

Banner photo by Melissa Halliburton.