Gizmo the Cat was someone's best friend. I know this because it's lovingly written in weatherproof marker around the edges of a ceramic plate wedged in sandy dirt. Gizmo's grave lies among tree roots and verdant ferns, next to an ankle-high wooden sign commemorating the death of three baby sea turtles. A paw-length away is a marker for "Jacques Mouse," and a jagged slab of marble tile with an Altamira-like drawing of a four-legged something called Rosie. I can't tell if Rosie was a cat or dog, but I know her now for "16 years of love, mother to Peter, Paul and James."
The owners of the pet plots at Bayou Arts and Antiques in Santa Rosa, Fla., call it a "final resting place" for animals, but there's nothing spooky about it. The handmade memorials cluster near the periphery of a shaded hideaway on the edge of Hogtown Bayou just off Route 30A, running through the communities of the Beaches of South Walton, connecting elegant resorts like Seaside with Grayton Beach.
The best part of finding Bayou Arts and Antiques is not the animal memorials or the shop (it's fun, filled with books, garden ornaments, festive costume jewelry, candles and the owner's very good landscape and abstract paintings) or the al fresco museum devoted to vernacular wooden fishing boats and fisherman's skill. (I learned that a juvenile female crab is a "sally" and a mature one a "sook"). The best part is the chapel.
The Wildlife Chapel at Bayou Arts and Antiques is smaller than a mobile grooming van, but in imagery, holds every animal there is. One wooden wall is crowded with paintings of sea urchins, fish, turtles and crabs migrating toward the bare altar. The other is populated with paintings of land animals -- herons, skunks, snakes and butterflies hurrying to the front of the room. The chapel has two pews, a tin roof and windows flung open to the salt air. A hefty seashell-encrusted book holding handmade drawings depicting the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf sits on a single shelf.
Chick Huettel, the chapel builder, landscape painter and proprietor of Bayou Arts and Antiques walks and laughs like Dick Van Dyke, and maybe the generous concept behind the song "Feed the Birds" from the Mary Poppins film went to his head. In the fall, Huettel invites neighbors to bring their pets to the chapel for blessing by a local priest during the feast of St. Francis, celebrating the Catholic saint's legendary love for animals.
The Wildlife Chapel at Bayou Arts and Antiques is also available to be rented for weddings. It would have to be a really small wedding, but you could certainly bring your dog.
Bayou Arts & Antiques, Highway 393 Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. 850-267-1404.