and the chapel located on its grounds serve as safe spaces for dog lovers of all backgrounds and beliefs. Artist Stephen Huneck believed that the love of dogs is a constant, uniting force for us humans.
Located on 150 acres of Vermont wilderness, the property includes forests, trails and a pond. The site is always open to dogs and their humans. The rules of Dog Mountain allow pups off-leash to romp with one another and roam the wilderness.
Stephen and his wife, Gwen, bought the property in 1995 and converted the barn into a studio for Stephen’s art. Shortly before acquiring the land, Stephen fell down a flight of stairs and suffered adult respiratory distress syndrome as a result. He remained in a coma for two months. After a long road of recovery, Stephen began creating woodcut prints of his black Labrador named Sally.
Stephen also penned ten books inspired by his pup. He illustrated each of the books with prints of his delightful woodcuts.
In 2000, the couple opened Dog Chapel on the sprawling landscape. Stephen believed that the chapel was the greatest and most personal artwork of his life.
"[The chapel is] a place where people can go and celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs.”
The Hunecks built the space to be about dogs and not dogma. It serves as a place for people of all faiths, or no faith, to reflect on and celebrate dogs who have passed on.
Stephen believed that Dog Mountain and its chapel were his ways of contributing more to the world than his whimsical art. He’s quoted as saying:
"I’ve received inspiration to accomplish certain things in life, and that figures into a bigger equation. You have to give to get."
Visitors have wallpapered the building's walls with notes and photos that pay tribute to the bond between humans and dogs.
Stephen wrote on the Dog Mountain website:
“It is a very moving experience - sad, certainly, but also uplifting - to see how much everyone cherishes his or her dog. Grieving for a lost dog is one aspect of the Dog Chapel, but equally important is celebrating the joy of living and the bond between dogs and their owners."
Amanda McDermott, Dog Mountain’s creative director, told us:
“Loving and kindhearted visitors travel from all over to visit dog mountain and the Dog Chapel. The chapel has been a never ending chapter in Dog Mountain history, So many red, teary eyed people have told me how much being in the chapel has helped them "let it all out" and find comfort in all love notes and expressions of love that cover the chapel walls.”
Despite all of the love and joy the safe space brings to people’s lives, Dog Mountain has been plagued with financial troubles. The property survives only on art sales and donations. This does not always provide optimal funding. At one point, Stephen and Gwen were forced to layoff 90% of their staff. Stephen was devastated.
In 2010, he took his own life. Amanda believes that the survival of Dog Mountain was so ingrained in Stephen’s heart that he thought his death would increase sales and help his dream survive.
Unable to recover from the loss of her husband, Gwen, known as Gwennie, died of suicide in 2013.
The loss of both of the Hunecks was devastating for Amanda and Jill Brown, who was the general manager at the time. The pair had grown so close to the couple, especially Gwennie, that they truly shared a family bond.
It is because of this bond that Amanda devotes her energy to keeping the doors of Dog Chapel open. She has diversified the product line by adding transparent giclee prints, prayer flags and bumper stickers, among other items. She’s created new books based off of Stephen’s writings about Sally.
Dog Mountain also hosts several dog parties that bring in hundreds of people. There are four already planned for this year.
Amanda says that the biggest change to Dog Mountain is the launch of the Friends of Dog Mountain charity. All tax deductible donations help to pay the site’s property taxes and keep the space open to the public.
Although keeping Dog Mountain running is a struggle, Amanda wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“One of my favorite things to hear is how when people who are returning to dogmt turn on to our dirt road they say their sleepy dog perks up and becomes all alert. Once the mountain is in sight and the smells hit their noses, the pups get so excited. It warms my heart to know that the mountain brings so much joy to dogs.”
Visit the Dog Mountain website
to learn more about the site, Stephen's work and upcoming events.
All photos used with permission.