The Miracle of Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel

dog mountain

In the heart of Vermont, dogs are welcome to explore the green, lush land of Dog Mountain and its accompanying attractions that are Dog Chapel and the Stephen Huneck Art Gallery. There are miracles on this property: I recently witnessed not one, not two, but three miracles on Dog Mountain.

If you are a dog lover, add this destination to your must visit bucket list for both you AND your dog(s). For those unfamiliar with this unique destination, world renowned artist and author, Stephen Huneck, created Dog Mountain so that people could experience his artwork and share his passion for nature. He built Dog Chapel by hand so that folks could celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs. He called it “the largest artwork of my life and the most personal.”

I interviewed Gwen Huneck, the widow of Stephen Huneck, not long after his tragic passing. “People come to Dog Chapel from all over. They leave remembrances of dogs loved and lost in the chapel or simply come to sit in peace,” she reflected. “For many, there is no sense of closure when a dog suddenly dies. Coming to the chapel gives them peace. They can come and enjoy nature and find serenity here.”

dog chapel with my dog
With my dog at the entrance to Dog Chapel.

“Stephen believed in love and that’s what dogs are all about,”she said. The chapel and Dog Mountain are very life affirming. Because the property is open 7 days a week with hiking and swimming in surrounding ponds and a Dog Fest every October, folks are welcome to bring their dogs to enjoy the experience.

Most touching, she told me, “Stephen was a very funny, playful and vibrant person. He loved nature and loved dogs. Both components are here.”

Stephen , however, is no longer here. Sadly, in 2010, at the age of 61 and struggling with depression, Huneck took his own life not far from the retreat he shared with his wife. Reports surfaced that he became despondent after being forced to lay off employees of his studio and the famed Dog Chapel.

In the spring of 2013, Gwen Huneck died after an apparent successful suicide. She was 61. My heart is broken for the Hunecks, for their loved ones and community, for the tears and emptiness they felt, and that it came to this. I cannot pretend to imagine what they felt, but I feel anger, sadness, sorrow, and ultimately emptiness for this tragedy.

I spoke for a half hour to Gwen when interviewing her years ago for a dog magazine. I felt like “they got it,” the “it” being the sense of loving dogs so very much that you vacation with them, make them a part of your family, open your hearts to them, and maintain a mountain in their honor.

dog chapel
Inside the Dog Chapel, this painting appears by Stephen Huneck.

 

Why I Visited Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel

The walls of Dog Chapel are lined with images, remembrances, and notes to beloved pets who are no longer with us. What began as Remembrance Wall evolved into an outpouring of love and celebration covering every inch of the walls inside the chapel.

My broken heart prevented me from visiting Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel until recently. I so very much wanted to post an image and note to our Brandy Noel, the Cocker Spaniel who claimed my heart and then took it to heaven with her in tiny fragmented pieces. Visiting Dog Chapel meant she was really gone, and even though she died in 2008, this felt more than final for me.

My wife stood on a step stool and gently placed our little girl’s image onto the wall along with the thousands and thousands of others who had crossed over. We found a small area of the arch between the front and back of the chapel to place her image. Of course, this was more for us, those left behind, but it gave us a sense of having her with us once more. Grief has taught me that hell exists on earth, for I went through it, but it also taught me that love never ends. Our Brandy has communicated with us on more than one occasion, “postcards from the bridge,” as my friend Jean so eloquently says.

dog picture at dog chapel
Our Brandy Noel on the walls of Dog Chapel

Postcard from the Rainbow Bridge

In 2008, on the day our Brandy Noel was taken away from her illness-laden body and crossed to the Rainbow Bridge, I sat waiting with her in the backyard for what I knew in my heart would be her last moments in the grass, sun shining down on this precious dog. Our then vet was about a two-hour ride from our home, so knowing the road ahead and what lay at its end caused me understandable apprehension and grief.

Suddenly, a small white butterfly flew across us and back across again. I knew it was God was calling her home. I knew the road ahead meant I’d come home without her in my arms. Well, to this day, almost seven years later, a white butterfly frequently makes its presence known to me – it will cross my path when I least expect it – and often times right in the spot where one flew over us on that last day of her life. I get chills every time. Just one white butterfly.

butterfly

My wife and I thought perhaps Brandy would give us a sign at Dog Mountain, but we received no physical manifestation, no rain from the skies, no sudden sounds or instances…

Until that moment.

After spending time, money and tears in both the gallery and chapel, in the third hour of our visit, it was decided it  was time to leave. In all honesty, I could live there with my family. A sense of calling, peace, and beauty at this land and its meaning breathed itself into me. As we left the gallery, new portrait in tow, we decided to make one last visit to the chapel.

Prior to entering, I was fiddling with my purse and putting some things away when something flew in front of my face. I “shooed” it away, thinking it was a bee. “Why are you in my face” I exclaimed and did that back hand thing we all do when an insect gets in our line of vision.

Except it was not an insect at all.

It was a butterfly.

One single, solitary, white butterfly fluttering itself in my face and circling my head for a good 10 seconds.

The tears flow now as they streamed then.

“She always comes to you, Carol,” my wife said.

Darlene stood staring at me, tears welling up in her eyes at the beauty of what just happened, and our dog, Dexter, sat by my side.

Darlene no sooner got those words out when circling back from the side of Dog Chapel came the majestic white butterfly, fluttering around Darlene’s head once, and it went towards Dog Mountain, where she sauntered along.

We were both crying: Joy and sadness, grief and gratitude.

I bent forward, hands to my stomach, feeling as if I had just expelled all the air in my body. I didn’t feel sick, I felt alive and dazed all in one.

With our mouths agape, our dog by our side, both of us said aloud, “Brandy” and smiled.

She would never let us leave without making her presence known.

cocker spaniel cute
Our sweet Brandy Noel, forever missed and loved.

But Wait, There’s More

Breathless and in disbelief, we walked back to the chapel and I grasped the Labrador Retriever handle to open the hand carved door.

Walking into the chapel, one first sees a small area and then crosses past an arch, where our Brandy Noel’s photo was placed.

What happened next frankly stunned us both.

Sitting beneath her photo, right on the floor of the arch, was a pink and black squeaky ball. Here is what is completely odd about finding that ball in that position in that moment:

  1. The ball was in the “mommy bag:” the name of the bag we carry with all of our dog’s things in it.
  2. That bag was zipped up with no one seeing a ball fall out of it.
  3. Many dogs had entered and exited and chapel in the hours since we were there, yet NONE of them took that ball?
  4. The ball’s exact position in the chapel is well, without explanation. But there it was.

As I reached down into my purse and fumbled for my cell phone camera, my dog, Dexter, picked the ball up and walked away.

“Here Dex, catch,” Brandy seemed to have summoned from the bridge.

That’s our girl: We always told her to find Mommies and know that she is never alone. Apparently, she’s still a great listener: She found us and we aren’t alone either.

dog with ball
This is our dog, Dexter, with the squeaky ball mentioned above.

And Then

Darlene, Dexter, and I sat down into one of the remaining hand-carved pews. Silence was on tap then, and as I recall the happenings of the day, goosebumps fill my arms. I still cannot believe it.

I want to believe that this is a strong coincidence, but my heart tells my otherwise.

I want to believe that at that exact moment, standing in a spot we so much avoided for so long, that the one white butterfly happened to flutter itself into my face, around my head, and nearly replicate the same behavior to my spouse….but my heart knows otherwise.

I want to believe that somehow that squeaky ball made its way out of a zipped bag, onto a chapel floor, ignored by one dog after another, and with exacting placement, found its way beneath our Brandy Noel’s image…. But my heart beats dog. And for those of you that say, “my heart beats cat,” then you can understand, as well. Animals in general find a way into our hearts.

I know better. I believe. I have dreams without limits, as Stephen Huneck wrote, and those dreams manifest as beliefs. The beliefs in my heart are limitless.

my heart beats dog

They Come in Threes

It is said that things tend to happen in threes: And so it goes. Maybe it’s the Trinity? Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Maybe it’s those limitless dreams coming to me in a 1-2-3 count.

Tourists and visitors filed into the chapel in our final moments, and one lady in particular came over to talk. She admired our dog, Dexter, and proceeded to tell us about her dogs and why she was there.

As I exchanged our experience on the mountain and in the chapel, she muttered, “These things don’t happen by chance. Think of everything your dog had to do to make that moment happen. Her love for you is that great.”

And the tears streamed again. She hugged us, I gave her my business card, and I felt like I had just been visited by an angel on earth, a messenger of sorts.

Sitting next to my family in that moment, I shared with Darlene that what just happened reminded me of that scene in the movie, “Ghost,” where Patrick Swayze learns to focus all his energies from “the other side” to move a penny to his grieving girlfriend (Demi Moore) he left behind.

Our penny is a butterfly.

dogs at dog mountain
All creeds, all breeds, no dogmas allowed. Inside the art gallery on our visit. One never knows who they shall meet.

The greatest miracles in life often come in a form, shape, and a time we least expect them. For those of you who have loved and lost a beloved pet, a furry family member, I have been there, done that, and can empathize and sympathize with your array of emotions and intense grief. It is so wrong that dogs cannot live as long as we do, or at least longer than the short life span they are granted.

It’s a dog’s only downside. The joys of sharing life with a dog, for me, far outweigh the grief that comes with losing them.

My heart beats dog, it also breaks dog, and I left little pieces of it within a small chapel on a mountain in Vermont.

I asked what will become of the property now that its founders are gone. There were some rumors about the land being sold off, another person tells me Gwen’s brother was involved for a time, and while we were on site, the two Huneck homes were up for auction. If you plan a visit, I’d make it sooner than later.

Believe what you want and call them coincidences: To each their own. For me, I received far more than I could ever have imagined visiting Dog Chapel. And isn’t that selflessness what dogs are all about? Stephen and Gwen, thank you: You are missed, you have affected many lives, and you will not be forgotten.

Until we meet at the bridge……

Here is a video compilation of Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel for your viewing pleasure:

Have you ever had an “experience” with a dog or pet who has passed over?

Comments

  1. How lovely and touching this is. I had no idea this even existed, but it’s great how so many people pay tribute to their dogs there.

  2. What a post here, Carol. Your words are so touching and revealing. Even though I’ve never been there, I feel as though I lived the experience through you. You have such a way with writing, and you express what others feel but can never find the right words to say. I really believe everything happens for a reason. You were meant to go there, you were meant to share your experience, you were meant to see that butterfly, and you were meant to meet that woman in the chapel. Thanks for sharing all of this.

    • It is really worth going to – there is not a lot to do outside of the property but we stayed an hour away in Burlington so it all worked out, Carleen. Hugs!

  3. I love that Brandy!! I never met her but I feel like I did. She is something else that little girl! She amazes me! I’m so glad that she went to visit you while you were at the Chapel. Maybe when I go she will visit me too and then I can say I really met her! Brandy Noel, I wish I met you!! I truly believe that butterfly was her too! She is an amazing little girl. Forever loved and forever missed! I definitely am going to have to visit soon! It sounds so amazing!

    • Awww thanks – I feel like you got to know her, too, Christine. You really would have loved her – such a diva lady like Coco Chanel Bella.

  4. What a beautiful and touching story. We have only ever had cats but I am all to familiar with them being called over the rainbow bridge. I hope you got some closure from your trip and fond memories flood your mind and your heart.

    • I know that I will never have closure, as I will carry her love, message, and soul inside until the day I die. But I so appreciate those kind words and many hugs to you on the cats you have lost. <3

  5. Bawling like a baby after reading this, Brandy knew how much she was an still is loved.

    I feel Buster and Ziggy looking around the corner of the hallway late at night when I get up to get a drink. Love and missy boys.

  6. OMD! I was in tears! It gave me shrivers! Yes I really believe our dogs that have passed can communicate with us. Carol that was so beautiful and touching. To have Brandy with you, Dar and Dexter and have a white butterfly fly around you and Dar. How awesome to experience the love that Brandy had for both you. Dexter and the ball. I am a firm believer that things do happen for a reason. I have a 3 butterfly bushes in my yard. Every time I see a butterfly I think of my dogs Sasha and Murphy who crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge along with my parents and my grandson. After Murphy passed I could still feel him laying next to me in bed. I could hear him snoring. Dogs do have a Soul! Thank you so much for sharing your visit to Dog Mountain, Dog Chapel and the sad story of Stephen and Gwen Huneck. He was an amazing artist. I would hope someone would continue Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel so all dogs lovers could continue to put up pictures of their dogs and have a peaceful place to visit. Sounds like a very amazing place to sit and think about our dogs that made our heart beat love of our dog(s).
    I found a penny on the beach a couple of weeks ago and I thought of my precious grandson!

    • Thanks for coming her to share with us, Sharon. I am so glad to hear your thoughts, and I know you love your babies so much.

  7. How what a lovely and touching post this is. I had no idea this even existed in today’s world, It’s great how so many people pay tribute to their dogs as they are like family to most.

  8. Carol,
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of your visit to Dog Mountain. I’ve been twice. Once to place Zeke’s photo on the wall, then again when my canine soul-mate, Buck passed. Although the reason for the visit was sad, Paul and I were uplifted on both occasions by our experience at the Chapel, on the grounds and in the gallery.

    I remember the first time we left home destined for Dog Mountain, I was unaware that people placed images of their pets on the wall. But for some reason, before we pulled our car out of the driveway to go to the airport, I made Paul stop the car so I could run inside and grab a photo of Zeke, who had passed the year prior.

    Fifteen hundred miles north, as we entered the Chapel, it became apparent why I’d felt the impulse to run back in the house for the photo.

    I can’t imagine something happening to Dog Mountain. Paul and I have often talked about how we’d buy the whole darn mountain if we win the lottery. I hope and pray that a dog angel keeps this sacred place safe for dogs and all of us who love them.

    • Kristen, Your story has me in tears – – see, that was meant to be for you to go back and get that photo of Zeke. I am so grateful to know you and look forward to getting to know you more!

  9. Well, isn’t that something to write a blog about! I couldn’t wait to find out what happened, but I tell you, as fantastic and not-of-this-world as it might seem (), I’m not surprised by any of it. Not at all. You and Darlene were on the receiving end of a gift, for sure. And, in my limited experience, those are the kinds of gifts that want keep on giving in huge ways. (By the way, since you mentioned cats…let’s just say, they teach me a LOT about living.)

    So happy that you two got this experience! (And surely, Dog Chapel will go on standing? I can’t imagine how anyone could disturb it?)

    • I thought so much of you there and kept looking for different Corgi things in the gallery – he had a few small things but mostly dabbled in Labs and larger dogs – he did have an affection for pugs and dachsies.

      I so wish I could swoop in and Wigglebutt Warriors would keep Dog Chapel going….

  10. Thank you for sharing a piece of your history. I first saw your post this morning and knew I had to wait until this evening to read it. I haven’t heard of Dog Mountain before and truthfully, I’m not sure I could visit. “It is so wrong that dogs cannot live as long as we do, or at least longer than the short life span they are granted”, really struck a cord with me Carol. I occasionally think about losing Keira and the thought literally brings me to my knees. I’m not sure how I will cope with the loss… Thank you again for sharing this incredible personal story.

    • My best advice is try your hardest not to think about. I was always like that and I would worry myself sick with what would I be like when my dog is not with me anymore. And you know what? All the worry and preparing could not have prepared me. The one thing that got me through other that a grief counselor was not denying myself love of a dog again and knowing my Brandy wants me happy. The pain I learned I have to live with – sucks you know. xoxo

  11. I visited a place similar to this in Utah and I attended the monthly memorial ceremony. Oh my gosh, the love and outpouring of support and care for those who’ve lost animal loves was so dear and touching. Your story made my heart weep.

  12. Aw what a sweet place and a sweet post. My grandmother would have loved to visit here, I don’t doubt it for a second. And your Brandy Noel was a beauty!

  13. I had heard of Dog Mountain and Chapel but have never visited.Now I really would love to go and place a remembrance of our special Cocker boy,Riley.He has been gone about 2 1/2 years now and is still very much missed and always loved.We(I) got another Cocker boy,Beauregard shortly after Riley’s passing…my husband insisted that he did not need or want another dog but I did so I made the arrangements and we drove 2 hrs to get our little Beau.He became Earl’s dog the moment he held him and I love sitting back and smiling everytime I hear Earl telling Beau that Riley knew best and that he indeed needed another boy to love.Whenever we accidentally call Beau Riley I just smile and tell Beau that his big brother is thinking about us.
    Thank you for sharing such precious moments in your life with us.I cried while reading the entire article.Hugs to you ,Darlene and Dexter.Dex may have never met Brandy but I am sure that he senses her presence just as I know Beauregard senses Riley.

  14. Wow, that’s beautiful and intense. I absolutely believe these were signs from Brandy. I’ve always wanted to go to Dog Mountain, too.

    When Pip passed away in October 2013, I was devastated and I looked for signs from him everywhere. And then when I wasn’t really looking, I did receive what I believe was a sign. I was walking to pick up my daughter after school and I heard this crazy squawking. I looked up and saw a hawk perched on top of a nearby house. The hawk was looking right at me, like right at me, and continued to squawk. As strange as this sounds, I felt an instant connection with the hawk. The following morning the hawk was in a tree in front of my daughter’s school and again started squawking when he saw us. We continued to see many sightings of the hawk – he was often near the school and often did circles over the playground while my daughter was playing at recess. Keep in mind that my daughter viewed Pip as her big brother and protector.

    I started doing some research and discovered that in many cultures hawks are signs from loved ones from the other side. I still chuckle that our scared little rescued Yorkie might have come back as big, fearless hawk! We still see hawks often and while maybe not the same one – we always think of Pip when we see them soaring high above. Hoping some day to write a children’s story about Pip and the hawk.

    • You just gave me goosebumps. That is so beautiful and absolutely that would be your Pip coming to you and soaring over you. I am crying here. Why cant they live as long as us?

  15. What a lovely experience. And I have no doubt it was Brandy saying “hey, I’m okay.” I would love to visit that place, although it’s a far way to go for us. I hope it won’t be sold. Such a sad story about the owners.

    I got a message from our Abby as well. Her color was always a deep almost-raspberry pink. Her collars were that color, she had a warrior princess cape I made her to wear for her cancer fight that was that color – it was HER color. The day after she died I was sitting looking through photos and videos of her on my computer. I didn’t even notice that the sun had gone down, even though just beyond my computer screen I have a big sliding glass door to the outside world. I looked up and the sun had set and the whole sky was HER color. I really think it was her way of telling me “hey, I got here to the bridge okay.” Luckily my “good” camera was right there and I snapped a photo of the sky. I had it blown up and it sits on my desk.

    A few days later i was missing her and hoping for another little sign from her. I was running errands and stopped to get gas. I got out of the car, and right under my nose there were 3 pennies – laying on the ground in the same formation as her three-legged pawprints, 2 in the back beside each other, 1 in the front. Pennies from heaven from my 3-legged girl.

  16. Carol,
    Loved your story on your recent trip to Dog Mountain. I have been there a few times as I went to school in beautiful Vermont. I would go because it is a wonderful place to recognize how much our pets mean to us and reflect on loving them and ultimately losing them. Its a magical place.
    A few comments above, my wife Kristen wrote of our past trip there to honor our labs Zeke and Buck. Their pics and our written goodbyes are there with the thousands of others that were so painfully prepared but lovingly posted on those chapel walls. We plan to return this Christmas season with our current love Chilly to let him run and romp where so many have before, and say hi to Zeke and Buck.
    So important to show and tell those we love every day. Every time I take Chilly for a walk, I tell him how much I love him…… Thanks for sharing.

  17. What a stunningly beautiful, magical place. I would love to visit this special place. I can’t believe what an amazing & beautiful experience you had as you paid tribute to Brandy Noel. I don’t believe things like that are just coincidence! I’m sorry these two incredible people are no longer there amongst all the beauty they created. The world is surely emptier without them. I hope some developer doesn’t buy the place and demolish that magnificent chapel! There is both Beauty and tragedy in that place.

  18. Wow!!!! I have the biggest heart ache right now. Thank you for sharing your story and this place. I did not even know it existed.I have been sobbing through this whole story. I adopted my little angel 2 years ago the biggest decision I ever made knowing it would change my life my kids were grown and i had free and easy life. Then I saw a little puppy in a run down house in the country a big bowl of dog food and puppies playing i could not leave her in those conditions she had fleas and it was bad. I went shopping for a new collar and they were all to big. I held her tight and just talk softly to her and went home bathed her and called a hot line to find medicine got her to a vet and well she had just settle in my world but i cannot bear to leave that sweet little face. then i heard about Rainbow ridge and every now and then i cry dreading the day she goes………I know the day will come and I will have had the best years of my in a life, ,Even though the world has become so cruel because of her.

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