Diocese will enforce rule that prohibits walking pets in Catholic cemeteries

Posted at 11:09 PM, Apr 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-25 23:09:21-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids stands behind a rule prohibiting pets in Catholic cemeteries after a controversial picture of a dog was taken in the city's west side.

The photo was taken Sunday by Suraya Shosten when she was walking her black lab, Bailey in the Holy Cross Cemetery. The picture shows Bailey resting next to a headstone, something she’s been doing since she was a puppy.

“She has always just wanted to go out to the grave sites and kind of just visit with people,” said Shosten. “She went up and laid by this tree and I couldn’t pull her up from it, she really was interested in him and didn’t want to leave his side for a few minutes. I would kill to know what she’s thinking.”

Suraya calls Bailey ‘keeper of the cemetery’ because she sits in an old wicker chair on the porch after every walk, watching over the headstones.

The controversial photo went viral on Facebook sparking a mostly heartwarming response from many, but not everyone. Someone reported the picture to the cemetery. The next day Shosten was asked to stop coming with Bailey.

“One of the maintenance workers came up to us and said, ‘I’m sorry about this, I know we’ve known her since she was a puppy but technically rules are rules,” explained Shosten.

FOX 17 reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids, who responded with a written statement: “We, along with many other cemeteries across the country have a rule that does not permit pets to be walked on cemetery grounds. This rule has always been in effect, but unfortunately has not always been enforced as we do not have staff members who are present 24 hours a day. Out of respect for the people who are buried in our cemeteries and their loved ones this rule will be enforced moving forward,” said Annalise Kransz, Director of Communications.

“It’s a bummer,” said Shosten. “We will still appreciate it on the outside but it’s different, we’ve been walking in there since she was very young."

And Bailey’s not the only one, many people walk their dogs in Holy Cross Cemetery. Neighbors on the West side said they visit loves ones who're buried there every day with their pets.

“My grandma just passed away so she’s buried in there and so is my sister, so we go and visit the grave stones,” said Ashley Gillette. “I do pick up some of the trash and I do notice a lot of empty beer cans. So I’m more concerned with that in the grass than walking my dog in there.”

Both Gillette and Shosten said it was never their intent to offend or disrespect anyone by walking their dogs in the cemetery, adding that they both clean up after their animals.

Shosten tells us she’s more than happy to find a different place to walk Bailey.