Losing a pet is as difficult as losing any other member of the family. The emotional connection between humans and pets means that finding meaningful ways of memorializing them is paramount.
Many veterinarian offices offer pet cremation and euthanasia (allowing you to bury the body wherever you legally can). But what if you want to keep your pet closer than that? What if you could preserve them and keep their body in a way that slows down the process of decomposition, allowing you to memorialize them in your own home?
Pet preservation is a way to commemorate your pet without physically losing them. Animal preservation has a specific aesthetic that people from many different social backgrounds appreciate – from hunters to oddity fans.
Preserving the Bond: A Journey Through the History and Types of Pet Preservation
History of Pet Preservation
There is a long history of pet preservation across human history. There is evidence that ancient Egyptians mummified their pets along with humans. According to The Collector, “Mummified animals are found in droves in special pet cemeteries and ritual sites, and some are even buried with their owners.” It is thought that pet mummification had religious significance, and goes to show how much humans have always cherished their relationships with animal companions.
The ancient Egyptians are also thought to be the first taxidermists. The Museum of Idaho states “They developed early forms of animal preservation using injections, spices, oils, and such.” Many Indigenous communities throughout the world still practice traditional forms of taxidermy, preserving animals to adorn clothing and tools and honor ancestors.
With the rise of natural history museums, taxidermy and articulation spiked in interest in the 18th century. It wasn’t until the 1970’s however, that taxidermy became an official practice with the formation of the National Taxidermy Association and taxidermy schools that followed.
Today, taxidermy is seen as an “American folk-craft” that can even earn you a badge in Boy Scouts.
Types of Pet Preservation
Taxidermy is the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting an animal for a lifelike effect. According to Animal Family, a leading pet preservation company in the US, there are five common taxidermy techniques used in pet preservation.
- Traditional skin-mounts – this process uses the freshest skins possible, which are immediately preserved and tanned to maintain a lifelike feel to the piece. The skins are then applied to mounts made of wood, wire, wool, clay, or even the animal’s bones for structure. This technique requires a lot of skill, especially if the animal is posed in movement. If the technique isn’t there, well… we’ve all seen the bad taxidermy memes.
- Freeze-dried mounts – a popular practice that makes it easier to work with animals that do not have hair and skins that are easy to preserve. The organs are removed and the body is kept in-tact and preserved in a freeze-drying machine. These require care afterwards to maintain preservation.
- Reproduction mounts – these mounts do not use the actual body, instead they create an identical reproduction of your pet using resin or fibreglass.
- Re-creation mounts – this option uses parts of additional animals to create a fuller looking specimen. This method can also be used if, for example, you want to turn your pet bunny into a jackalope.
- Study skins – this refers to the intention of fully preserving skin without paying attention to the aesthetics. Historically, this is so the skin can be preserved and used for research purposes.
Just like humans, cremation and water cremation are great options to memorialize a pet. This is also an accessible option, as cremation services for pets exist in most towns. Once you have the remains of your pet, there are a lot of things you can do with them including putting them into a locket, turning them into a featured piece of pottery in your house, or scattering them on their favorite hike.
For more information on the process of cremating your pet, read our article on caring for a deceased pet at home.
For more information on what to do with the cremated remains of your pet, read our article, How to Commemorate your Pet.
Articulation is the process of reattaching a skeleton joint by joint. Like dinosaurs in a museum, this option turns your pet into a beautiful skeletal display. According to Lee Post (also known as The Boneman), “Skeleton articulation, or bone building as I call it, is the process of converting a dead animal into a completely cleaned and articulated skeleton… This process is much like assembling a full-scale model with bones being fastened to other bones by various means including glues, pins, wires and steel rods.”
A favorite method of preservation in the oddity communities is wet preservation – the process of putting an animal in specific fluids, often set in a jar or large glass container so the animal is “floating” in the fluid. These fluids are similar to, and sometimes the same as, fluids used to embalm humans.
How long an animal will remain preserved depends on several factors, including how well the jar is sealed and the temperature and conditions of where it is stored. If placed in a stable environment, an animal preserved with this method can last hundreds of years. You might be thinking this is only an option for smaller pets, but there have been animals as large as cows preserved using this method.
Where to get your pet preserved
Alessandra Dzuba offers pet articulation services out of Oracle Natural Science in Kansas City, MO. However, her services are available beyond MO. Alessandra won the blue ribbon at World Taxidermy Championships in 2019.
Animal Family offers many types of preservation including freeze-dried taxidermy and articulation, and will ship to the US and Canada.
TheBoneMan specializes in articulation and ships internationally. You can also find resources on their website to learn how to articulate a pet yourself.
Gotham Taxidermy offers a variety of pet preservation options including traditional taxidermy, soft fur preservation, skull and bone cleaning, paw impressions and nose casts, and eco-friendly aquamation. The owner of Gotham Taxidermy also co-authored the book Stuffed Animals: A Guide to Modern Taxidermy, and offers workshops in New York City and around the world.
Precious Creature Taxidermy offers full-body traditional taxidermy as well as furs, bones, and casts. They also offer burial, cremation, aquamation, and are in the process of building an Ossuary, or “bone temple” on their desert land to honor the bones of deceased pets.
Bischoff Pets is a higher-end pet preservation company that has been around for nearly a century and offers freeze-dried taxidermy, aquamation, and… cloning?
Mickey Alice Kwapi offers wet preservation as well as a thorough DIY guide and workshops in New York City.
Half Embalmed also offers wet (or fluid) preservation in addition to taxidermy and articulation. They only ship in the US, and do not offer full taxidermy for cats and dogs (but are able to provide an extensive list of those who do).
It’s worth searching for pet taxidermists in your area for cheaper pricing and faster turnaround (some places can take up to 15 months to get your pet returned to you). You could also consider going to an Oddities Market or reaching out to oddity makers online to see if they will work with you to preserve your pet, or know anyone who will.
Not everyone will understand why you want to preserve your pet, and for some people seeing their pet after they’ve died can prevent them from processing their grief. Ultimately, how you grieve and dispose of or keep a pet’s body is your choice. If you’re interested in having them stuffed and mounted, you’re not the only one.