WASHINGTON — Pets will no longer be allowed to accompany visitors to Arlington National Cemetery starting Wednesday, one of several new policies announced by the Army. Pets have "impacted the decorum" of funeral services and ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Army said Monday when the service announced their banishment from the cemetery's 624 acres. "This policy has been deemed necessary to alleviate these impacts and continue to provide the type of respectful and contemplative space that Arlington National Cemetery strives to be," a statement from the cemetery reads.
However, some dog owners tout the cemetery as an ideal spot for walking their pets. Erika Searl of New York City takes her two terriers, Cubby and Ginger, to Arlington National Cemetery several times each year, she said. They visit the grave of a family member, Charles Searl, a B-17 pilot with the 398th Bomb Group who was killed in action during World War II. Searl writes a blog about her travels with her dogs and has recommended the cemetery to other dog walkers. "It is a beautiful cemetery, and we think pets should be allowed if they (and their humans) are respectful and follow the cemetery rules by walking on the leash on the paths," Searl wrote Tuesday in an email. Other blogs and news outlets have featured Arlington National Cemetery as a pet-friendly attraction. Previous cemetery policy stated well-behaved pets on leashes are allowed in every part of the cemetery besides John F. Kennedy's grave. But under the new policy, only service animals and working military dogs will be allowed on cemetery grounds. The ban on pets is part of a set of updates to cemetery policy that all take effect Wednesday, including the closure of the cemetery to bicyclists. In a statement issued Oct. 17, cemetery officials wrote bicyclists disrupt funeral services, affect other visitors' experiences and pose safety concerns. The Arlington County Board and bicycle advocacy organizations in Arlington and nearby Fairfax County argued against the bicycle ban, and about a dozen individuals wrote comments asking officials to reconsider it when they proposed the rule in May. Cemetery officials have reiterated in announcements about the changes that their primary mission is to "lay to rest those who have served our nation with dignity and honor." Full text of the policy changes at Arlington National Cemetery can be found at regulations.gov.