Most of those who venture onto this website know the lingering pain of losing a pet, how hard it is to let go of their memory — and how, often, we never do.
Some even know that the author of this website wrote a rather bizarre book about it, looking at the ways we try to hold onto a piece, or more, of our departed pets after they’re gone — in particular the newest and perhaps most outlandish of those, dog cloning.
Instead, most recent portrayals — of services ranging from cloning to freeze-drying – have been formulaic and superficial reality TV-type programs that fail to dig at all, or at least not as deep as the grief they’re focusing on.
So I’m eagerly awaiting, and have high hopes for, a new documentary called “Furever,” scheduled to premier next month as part of the Cleveland International Film Festival.
Director Amy Finkel traveled the country to look at the assorted — some might say sordid – routes we take to memorialize our dogs, or recapture a semblance of the life that once ran through them.
Her stops included a taxidermist in rural Pennsylvania, a religious group in Utah that mummifies pets, and various other parts of the country where entrepreneurs offer everything from jewelry to tattoos, made from the ashes of our dead pets.
She even popped in on Ace and me (though I’m told we don’t appear until the end of the film).
Endings are what the documentary is about, and our refusal, sometimes, to accept them — at least not without a freeze dried statue of our pet, a genetic twin created in a South Korean laboratory, or a trinket or shrine to remember them by.
Sixty-two percent of Americans own pets, spending nearly 53 billion dollars on them annually — most of that, fortunately, while their dog is still alive, but a lot of it, sometimes, after they’re gone.
The avenues they take, while they seem sane and fitting to the pet owners, sometimes strike others as bizarre.
Finkel’s examination, judging from time I spent with her, promises to be a non-judgmental one, and one that I expect , unlike other recent looks at pet preservation, doesn’t feel the need to inject additional melodrama. Often, there’s enough there already — so much that we don’t look beyond the outrageousness to see what we might learn.
“FUREVER is a documentary about the people looking to hang onto the memories of their four-legged loved ones, and the booming trade that is providing services that are an equal amount of creativity, empathy, and opportunity,” Finkel writes on the film’s website.
“FUREVER isn’t just about an industry that provides methods of pet preservation; it is also a study of how the relationship between owner and pet has grown throughout the centuries into a full-fledged family unit. Whether you’re a pet parent yourself, or friends with some, FUREVER gives you an intimate look into the gratitude and grief that goes with loving your pet.”
Amy Finkel earned her B.A. in Theater from Connecticut College and her M.F.A. in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design. She lives in Brooklyn and works as a designer, photographer, documentary filmmaker, and writer.
Finkel’s project began almost five years ago, when she read a newspaper article about Mac’s Taxidermy and Freeze-Dry in Loudon, Pa., whose services included freeze-drying and preserving deceased pets — sometimes in part, sometimes in whole. One potential client wanted the ears of a Dalmatian to be preserved, and another brought an amputated dog leg.
From there she moved on to visiting the Summum, a religious group in Utah that mummifies pets, and people.
The film also looks at cloning — now available, for $100,000, in South Korea, at technology being used to turn animals’ ashes into diamonds, and at pet owners who get tattoos with ink that’s mixed with their animals cremated remains. Her brother has gotten several of those, made from the ashes of his pit bull, according to a New York Times article about Finkel’s movie.
“This is about the human-pet bond, and it’s also about mortality,” Finkel said. “We shy away from discourse on death. It’s uncomfortable and stigmatized, but maybe through talking about pets, we can open up the dialogue.”
The documentary will have its premier at Cleveland International Film Festival, with screenings on Thursday, April 11, at 7:20 p.m.; Saturday, April 13, at 3:40 p.m. and Sunday, April 14, at 11:45 a.m.
(Photos by, and courtesy of, Amy Finkel)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 12th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: amy finkel, animals, ashes, cleveland international film festival, cloning, cremation, dead, director, documentary, dog, dog inc., dogs, film, freeze dried, furever, ink, jewelry, mac's taxidermy, memorials, movie, mummification, mummified, pet preservation, pets, premier, shrines, stuffed, summum, tattoos, taxidermy
Here’s the latest in the ASPCA’s anti-puppy mill campaign — a video that reminds those considering going to a pet store to purchase a puppy for Christmas of the unjoyous kind of place that dog likely came from.
“Our goal with this video is to educate consumers in a very compelling way about the connection between pet store puppies and puppy mills, with hopes of reaching millions,” the ASPCA said.
The video, entitled Puppies Are Not Toys, is part of the ASPCA’s No Pet Store Puppies campaign.
It’s timed for Christmas because polls show Americans plan to spend more than $2.5 million on pets over the holidays — the vast majority of that on pets they already have.
The ASPCA is suggesting that consumers avoid buying anything from pet stores that sell puppies because “some of that $2.5 billion in revenue may be supporting the puppy mill industry.”
It cited polls showing about 60 percent of consumers would still consider shopping at a store that also sells puppies.
As an alternative, it suggested shoppers consider giving gifts that make a difference in the lives of animals in need, such as those from its own online store.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 7th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: american society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, aspca, campaign, christmas, dogs, gifts, no pet store puppies, pet stores, pets, public service announcement, puppy mills, stuffed, toys, video
I’m as absorbed with taxidermy and its variations as the next guy (unless that next guy is Charles “Speedy” Atkins), especially when it comes to using it to preserve our pets.
I was fascinated enough to make it a chapter in my book, and curious enough to take a peek at “American Stuffers,” Animal Planet’s new series that each week follows people who are getting their pets, to use the common but erroneous nomenclature, “stuffed.”
But do I want to watch it every week? No.
“Stuffers,” I think, falls into the ever-expanding category of shows we watch to see humans behaving bizarrely — so strangely that we, by comparison, feel normal. You know the ones I’m talking about, those that focus on dysfunctional, obsessive, extreme behavior, like hoarding, kiddie beauty pageants, excessive tattooing, or just the travails of being a punk on the shore of New Jersey.
Flipping the remote these days, it sometimes seem as if Jerry Springer is choreographing what’s on every channel.
The Learning Channel, despite its name, has become one of the worst offenders — offering nearly a steady diet of human dysfunction. Animal Planet, despite its name, is getting more that way too.
I’ll admit that I’ve always been drawn to the bizarre behavers among us, but what makes them interesting to me is why they’ve become that way and the ramifications of it. Those aspects, and any context at all, are almost always missing from these shows, be they weekly series or pseudo-documentaries. Rather than advancing knowledge, they simply gawk. They just put the camera on the oddballs, and we learn nothing except what we already knew: People are weird.
Net gain: Zero.
“American Stuffers” centers on a taxidermy shop in Romance, Arkansas — one the show incorrectly describes as the only one of its type — where Daniel Ross freeze dries dead pets for bereaved owners.
Ross is founder and owner of Xtreme Taxidermy, which he operates with assistance from his wife LaDawn and his three sons. There seems a steady, sideshow-like stream of customers, and a steady stream of drama — real and manufactured — as he freeze dries pets and unveils them in their finished poses to their owners.
The show airs Thursdays at 10 p.m.
“While nothing can bring back these animals, Daniel and his artistic team attempt to come as close as science and art can allow,” Animal Planet says on the show’s website. “They recreate the illusion of life, and clients return home with their pets for eternity.”
That science these days allows much more than freeze-drying is shown in my book, “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commercial Dog Cloning Industry.”
But the book also looks at how, through history, our inability to part with our pets has led us down some other strange roads, including stuffing them.
“Stuffing,” in the 1800s, was an apt name for the process. Almost every town had a tanner, who would cater to hunters seeking to memorialize their kills. They would remove the innards and sew up the carcasses, filling them with rags, straw, paper and cotton, then use sticks and brooms to beat the animal into something resembling its original shape.
By the early 20th century, taxidermy had become far more sophisticated. Mounts of the original animal were made of wood, wire and later plastic, and the animals pelt was stretched over it.
Freeze drying, an invention of the 1970s, began being used by some taxidermists by the late 1990s, including one in West Virginia, Perpetual Pet, who was featured in my book. The process involves removing the animal’s organs, posing it in the desired position, freezing it and then putting it in a vacuum chamber that removes all the moisture.
The point, as with Victorian-era pet portraiture (sometimes painted after an animal was deceased), as with modern day “digital photo urns,” and as with the most technologically advanced method of all, cloning, is the same — to keep at least a semblance of a departed animal around.
It was while researching “DOG, INC.” that I came across the story of Charles “Speedy” Atkins, who, though he died in 1928 in Paducah, Kentucky, remained above earth, intact and upright (when leaned against a wall) well into the 1990s.
Atkins was an active 50-year-old bachelor. His nickname was said by some to have stemmed from his work habits at a local tobacco factory, but others maintain it described his way with the ladies. He drowned one day while fishing on the Ohio River.
His body was taken to the black-owned funeral home in Paducah operated by A.Z. Hamock, who, inspired by methods the Egyptians used on mummies, had been experimenting with ways to preserve bodies for longer periods.
Speedy wasn’t stuffed, but he was pumped full of Hamock’s secret long-lasting embalming fluid. Hamock’s motivations were practical: Preserving a body with the fluid would allow him to wait for the families of his clients, usually poor, to raise enough money for the funeral.
No family ever came for Speedy, though. And time didn’t reclaim him either. Hamock died in 1949, taking his secret formula with him. But Speedy Atkins stayed above the ground, pickled and preserved, for the next 66 years, most of which he spent stashed in a closet, though funeral home operators would sometimes put him on display for tourists.
He was finally buried in 1994. It was time, Hamock’s widow, Velma, decided. “Sixty-six years is a long time to be with somebody,” she said in an interview with Jet magazine, which covered the funeral.
“It was all an experiment, but it was a success,” she said. “Speedy’s never been duplicated, he’s the only one that we know of. He’s not stinking, nothing. The amazing thing is he hasn’t lost all of his features. He doesn’t look like a corpse laying up in the casket for 66 years.
“I never saw a dead man bring so much happiness to people.”
(Freeze dried pet photos of Tiny and Cisco, courtesy of Perpetual Pet.)
Posted by jwoestendiek January 25th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: american stuffers, animal planet, animals, arkansas, behavior, bereavement, bizarre, bodies, cadavers, charles atkins, cloning, corpses, customes, daniel ross, death, dog death, dogs, dysfunction, grief, human, kentucky, loss, memorials, memory, paducah, perpetual pet, pet death, pet preservation, pets, preservation, preserving, semblance, speedy, stuffed, stuffers, stuffing, taxidermist, taxidermy, television, xtreme taxidermy
Owney, a stray dog who became an unofficial postal service mascot during the years he rode the mail trains in the 1800s, is being honored by the postal service — appropriately, in his case, with a forever stamp.
Because Owney’s still around.
Although he died 114 years ago, Owney’s form has lingered — a bit misshapen and straggly as a result of 19th century taxidermy techniques and the passage of more than a century. He has spent most of that time at the Smithsonian Institution.
When the Smithsonian heard the dog was to be honored with a stamp, they decided to refurbish his stuffed likeness as well.
The new and improved Owney, with added fur, a new nose, shiny new eyes and more, will debut this week.
Owney wandered into the Albany, N.Y., post office one day in 1888, spending the night on a pile of mailbags. Cared for by mail clerks, he started riding along with the mailbags on the Railway Post Office, traveling across the United States on the trains while guarding the mail.
He died in Toledo in 1897 when, after attacking a mail clerk, he was shot by the town marshal.
Owney’s benefactors deciced to have him preserved by a taxidermist. He was originally displayed at the Post Office Department’s headquarters in Washington, then moved in 1911 to the Smithsonian.
“When my son first saw Owney when he was a kid, he had nightmares afterward,” Linda Edquist, a conservator at the National Postal Museum and the force behind Owney’s restoration, told the Washington Post. “The first thing you saw was his belly with this big suture mark running up it, so no wonder.”
Word that Owney was to be honored with a stamp — it’s scheduled to be released tomorrow — prompted Edquist to get Owney the repairs he needed.
“We saw it as the perfect opportunity to carry out the restoration that we had been talking about doing all along,” she said.
The museum used a $10,300 Smithsonian preservation fund grant and donations to pay for Owney’s makeover.
The Smithsonian collection also includes more than 470 medals and trinkets Owney has received from admirers. Those items are also being restored as part of a newly designed exhibit.
Owney was reconditioned at the Point of Rocks, Md., studio of retired Smithsonian taxidermist Paul Rhymer.
Owney’s facial reconstruction included hand-sculpting a new snout — his old nose had shriveled — using a cast coyote nose. He got a new set of eyes. His claws were replaced as well. A coyote pelt was used to patch up some bald spots.
(You can find a fantastic slide show documenting the restoration at the Washington Post.)
In Owney’s honor, the Smithsonian is hosting a four-day family festival, beginning Wednesday and continuing with museum activities through July 30, coinciding with the release of the forever stamp.
The museum has also created an “augmented reality” program so that when the forever stamp is held up to a computer Webcam, Owney comes to life, barking and trotting.
Posted by jwoestendiek July 26th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, dog, dogs, exhibit, forever stamp, likeness, mail, makeover, mascot, mounted, owney, paul rhymer, pets, post office, postal service, railroad, refurbished, smithsonian, smithsonian institution, stamp, stuffed, taxidermist, taxidermy, train
Yesterday we brought you slow-motion dogs. Today we’ll take a look at no-motion dogs — those whose owners like to keep them around, even after death.
As the first episode of “The Marriage Ref” showed, the practice is seen by some, perhaps most, as horrific, while still others consider it a fitting tribute to their pet.
The new show, a Jerry Seinfeld creation that premiered this week, included a segment on a marital spat over a husband’s decision — over his wife’s objections — to “stuff” his deceased Boston Terrier, Fonzie.
The show’s resident fact checker reported that only about 1,000 people a year have their pets “stuffed,” and its panel of “experts,” which included Seinfeld, Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin, all sided with the wife in the dispute, concluding that the practice was bizarre and Fonzie shouldn’t be displayed, shrine-like, in the couple’s home.
With that, the husband agreed to move Fonzie to the attic, which is where a lot of “stuffed” animals end up.
The show didn’t get into the specifics of how Fonzie was preserved after death, instead just using the misnomer “stuffed.” But apparently he was freeze-dried, an increasingly common technique being used by taxidermists and others — and at a rate that I think probably exceeds that reported by the “fact-checker,” NBC News reporter Natalie Morales.
I did some research into the practice in connection with my forthcoming book about dog cloning, looking back at the days when “stuffed” animals really were stuffed, the more modern form of “mounting” or stretching their pelts over a plastic form, and the more modern yet version, freeze-drying.
As part of my research, I interviewed Chris Calagan in West Virginia, owner of Perpetual Pet, which has been freeze drying pets since 2002, when he and his wife started with their own cat, Naomi.
Posing the pet and removing the moisture in his freeze drying machine is a process that can take months, depending on the pet’s size, Calagan explained to me.
“We don’t put a hole in it. It’s just through osmosis, very gradual, like drying an orange,” he said. “The moisture comes out through the peeling.”
Freeze drying is the latest variation of a practice that goes back to Victorian times, and one to which many have turned over the years.
Stubby, a pit bull who was the most decorated dog of World War I, was stuffed after his death and displayed at the Smithsonian.
When cowboy star Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger, died in 1965 at age 33, the Rogers family had him mounted, his skin stretched over a plastic mold, posed proudly in the position of a horse at its liveliest – reared up on its hind legs. Trigger became the main draw at the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans Museum. The Rogers also had Dale Evans’ horse, Buttermilk, and their German shepherd, Bullet, mounted to become museum pieces. Rogers, before his death in 1998, joked about having his own body “stuffed” and placed atop his rearing horse, but he never actually pursued that.
More recently, the mounted pet returned to popular culture in the television show “Scrubs,” in which a lifeless dog named Rowdy had a recurring role.
To some, it’s far to creepy a thing to ever consider. Others pursue it precisely because it is so quirky. But the majority of pet owners do it because of a sincere wish to keep a beloved dog around — in a state they can view and touch.
As with cloning, those who have done it might face a certain amount of ridicule, but, more often than not, they don’t care what anybody else thinks. In fact, they’d probably have two words for those who judge them: Stuff it.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 5th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alec baldwin, animals, coping, dogs, fonzie, grieving, jerry seinfeld, kelly ripa, mounting, mounts, mourning, perception, perpetual pet, pet death, pets, popular culture, public, reality, rowdy, roy rogers, scrubs, stubby, stuffed, stuffing, taxidermy, television, the marriage ref, trigger, tv
They’re made by the the same company that got in some trouble when it comandeered the images of the Obama children and released two dolls as part of its Ty Girlz collection with the names “Marvelous Malia” and “Sweet Sasha.”
After Michelle Obama said using her daughters’ names was inappropriate, the dolls were renamed “Marvelous Mariah” and “Sweet Sydney.”
Oak Brook-based Ty Inc. introduced Bo, the First Dog on April 16, two days after the Portuguese Water Dog made his White House debut.
“We are very proud of the First Family and wanted to join in celebrating their choice of a family pet,” Ty chief executive officer Ty Warner said in a statement.
The “Bo” doll’s suggested price is $4.99. It auctioned Wednesday on eBay for between $5 and $139.95.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 15th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: beanie baby, bo, bo obama, bobama, doll, dolls, ebay, first dog, first family, malia, marvelous mariah, michelle obama, portuguese water dog, sasha, stuffed, sweet sydney, toy, toys, ty, ty inc., ty warner