A few months back I received an email from a grief-stricken woman whose dog Bill Bill had just passed away. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with him, but she just knew part of him, at the very least, should be preserved. Looking at the photo she sent me, above*, it’s no wonder. That is hands down the kind of coat a taxidermist (or anyone who appreciates beautiful animals) will just drool over.
Sorry if that sounds crass but I mean it with the utmost respect. That’s the tricky thing about working with pets; I’m currently in the middle of my sixth custom pet project and in each of these cases I’d never met the deceased beforehand. I do my best to handle the “drop off” with all the sensitivity I can, but ultimately my taxidermist brain is looking at a specimen. I’ve never seen this animal animated, living. When the time comes to decide how to handle the death of my own beloved pet children, I suppose I will truly be able to see both sides.
Until then, however, I instead strive to truly connect with the bereaved human. It’s a humbling honor when a total stranger comes to me in such a vulnerable and saddened state; as someone who has often wondered exactly where my “nurturing chip” is (I have yet to hear one tick of my phantom biological clock and have never connected with infants- I even found the neediness of my puppy irksome before she grew into a more defined young ladypup) it’s profoundly validating to connect with these other humans in a nurturing fashion, where I really feel like I can use whatever it is within me to help this person heal.
Even as I type these words I think of what people might say- “it’s just pet taxidermy, Beth. You’re not curing cancer.” Duh. I totally know that. But the feelings my clients have are real and cannot be discounted. The connections I make with these people can never be taken away, just like the ones they’ve made with their pets. When it’s all said and done, our connections to each other, places, things, etc, will always exist, and however we choose to hold onto them is our right to pursue.
Bill Bill still had his collar on which always makes things extremely real for me, but it’s not as hard as it was that first time with Elke. My client decided on a sweet little dreamy dog sleeping pose and it came out exactly as I’d hoped.
The final product is a little bit more petite than the original specimen due to a small but manageable lack of fur. Bill Bill had been sick before his passing and almost all the fur on his underside had been shaved off. Also, the poor guy had lost his tail. Lucky for him, he had a human who cared very much for him.
My client and her daughter came by my new studio today to pick him up, and both were quite pleased. I’m still at the stage in my confidence level where I get the jitters before a piece gets picked up, hoping my work will be deemed acceptable. So far no complaints!
Here’s the view from the back. I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed working with this gorgeous coat.
And gorgeous dog, gorgeous client and family, etc. Great spirits and charm all around!
It was great working with you Mr. Bill Bill. Sweet dreams.
*the photo of Bill Bill I attempted to include in this post is apparently in some format that won’t translate so you’ll have to take my word for it.