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Dog Days at Congressional Cemetery

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Roxy the Doberman pinscher takes a stroll among the cenotaphs — empty tombs that honor deceased Members of Congress — at the Historic Congressional Cemetery. The graveyard has become a haven for dog walkers, who help pay for the upkeep of the grounds.

Informal groups of dog owners began contributing to the upkeep of the cemetery back in the 1990s. Crowley said in a recent interview that people have been walking their dogs in the cemetery for more than 30 years, although the situation on the grounds was far different until very recently.

“In 1990, it was a drug war zone,” he said. “The early dog walkers would stick to the main loop and band together,” he said, explaining that aside from the criminal element, the unmaintained grounds and resulting 3-foot-high grass made it difficult to traverse.

“The morning dog walkers, their job was to clean up the hypodermic needles. They had to [do it] very carefully to not stick yourself,” Crowley said.

It’s hard to imagine now, as the grounds are well groomed and many of the roads and paths within have been paved or upgraded during the past few years.

“Around 2001, 2002, I started harassing people to pay dues,” he said. At that point, the neighborhood had started improving a bit, and there was more interest in people using the park to walk their dogs.

Aside from “a few people, who would see me coming and start walking the other way,” Crowley said, membership grew and became more organized.

The K9 Corps became an official organization of the preservation association in 2007, complete with a board of directors, committees and the like. On Thursday, it starts another membership year.

It’s easy to see how the dog-walking dues have become an integral part of the budget. The membership fee is a $200 tax-deductible donation per family and a $50 per dog fee, with a maximum of three dogs per family. Dog owners are asked to volunteer at least 12 hours per year. Among the duties of a volunteer, in addition to picking weeds and clearing trash, is policing to make sure nonmember dogs don’t use the grounds.

Each year, members are required to undergo an orientation session to make sure they follow the rules and understand, among other things, the historical significance of the cemetery and how integral their efforts are to its preservation.

Still, the waiting list for the dog-walking membership is long.

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