I’m in the former group. I’d meant to visit Dog Mountain back when I lived in Boston with my pooch Gromit, but I never managed. Now, several years after he died and a mere season after my Doberman, Red, did, too, I’ve decided to finally make the pilgrimage to St. Johnsbury.
Once you’re in town, it’s an easy place to find. The road is marked by a sign and the sculpture of a woman walking with two dogs. It curves up onto this bucolic spot, with its wide-open views of the mountains. The sculptures are everywhere: dog busts on fence posts, another pooch figure standing sentry at an overlook, another few next to the big pond, and . . . well, at a certain point you stop looking for them, knowing that you’ll encounter them from time to time as you walk about.
Before heading into the Dog Chapel, which Huneck built himself, I decide to poke into the airy, light-filled gallery building next door. Inside, yet more sculptures of dogs large and small, plus prints, T-shirts, ornaments, children’s books (including the bestseller “Sally Goes to the Beach”) and more declare Huneck’s undying love for his favorite subject.
I amble around, chuckling at some of Huneck’s wittiest works, such as the classic “My Dog’s Brain,” a diagram showing nodules inside a canine head labeled “Socks,” “Bones,” “Food,” Ball,” “Selective Hearing,” “Sniffing Dog Butts,” “Getting Petted,” “Barking for No Reason,” “Jumping on Visitors,” “Food” again, “Treats” and more. But it’s all a little bittersweet, not only because I’m still feeling my own loss, but also because I know that as jovial as he seemed in his quirky artwork, Huneck suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2010.
After a while I head back to the chapel, which Huneck built in the style of an 1820s Vermont village church. The sign out front reads, “Welcome All Creeds. All Breeds. No Dogmas Allowed.” There’s a ladder blocking the entrance, but I move it aside and open the door. Inside the foyer, a larger version of the dog angel cupola (or maybe it just seems larger) greets visitors, but the most striking things are the countless multicolored squares and photos papering the walls.