We should perhaps start another of our Boggart Blog occasional series titled “American Weirdo of the Week.” Ridiculing at American weirdness, the self indulgent excesses of profoundly lonely whose delusions and solipsism make them tragi -comic figures people is becoming something of a favourite sport for Europeans.
American Weirdo Mike McCullough never intended to start freeze-drying beloved pets for grieving owners. But more than a decade ago, a friend of a friend asked the taxidermist to save his beloved dog from the grave or cremation by preserving the animal instead. The friend, displaying that sense of entitlement that typifies Americans, did not want a typically stuffed pet which, like the hunting trophies displayed in country pubs, look about as lifelike as as a lump of concrete. Oh no, he wanted Fido to look just as the dog had in life, and money was no object. Needless to say McCullough promised he could deliver.
The taxidermist had read of a new process to preserve pets, freeze drying. With his gullible friend underwriting the cost he bought the equipment which costs thousands of dollars and set about drying the dog.
Then he talked to a Wall Street Journal reporter about the process. The story made the front page and orders rolled in from
people with more money than sense grieving owners. Today, McCullough’s shop, Mac’s Taxidermy, is one of a handful of places in America that relieve customers of huge amounts of money for what is essentially a stuffed toy.
Freeze dried Schnauser or Stuffed Toy, you decide.
McCullough and other taxidermists like him use a special process to keep Fido or Fluffy from starting to stink. Traditional taxidermy involves skinning an animal and stretching its hide over a three-dimensional frame. This is inadequate for the loved family pet, as the animal’s features end up looking generic, nothing like the unique creature that owners knew, loved and anthropomorphised.
Instead, pet preservationists use a freeze-dry chamber, which lowers air pressure to the point that ice turns directly into gas without going through the liquid phase thus sucking the juice out of dead pets. Many taxidermists use freeze-dryers to preserve small animals or fish. Taxidermist Cathy Huntley, owner of Freeze Dried By Cathy in Michigan first got her freeze-dryer to preserve flowers before branching into turkey heads (??? who the fuck would want a freeze dried tirkey head?) and eventually pets.
Most taxidermist recommend a closed-eye “sleeping” pose for preserved pets.
The freeze-drying technique leaves animals looking much as they did in life apart from a very noticable lack of vital signs which must serve as a constant reminder that Bonzo, Tiddles or Polly the Parrot has shuffled off this mortal coil and gone to meet it’s maker in that great stuffed toy factory in the sky.
The process isn’t entirely noninvasive. Before freeze drying can begin Taxidermists must first remove internal organs and fat, which don’t freeze-dry well and would soon start to stink in a modern, centrally heated house. Artificial fillers, otherwise known as cavity wall insulation, then plump up the dehydrated animals because no – one wants a dead pet that looks like a half deflated balloon. Even for closed-eye poses the sort recommended by most taxidermists false eyes must be inserted in the sockets to prevent a sunken look.
For owners who want their pets to look awake, some taxidermists offer custom-made glass eyes, painted from photos of the pet during life. It is amazing the lenghts people will go to and the money they are prepared to spend to make a pastice of what was once a lining creature when the lack of animation when a stick is thrown or when the sound of a can opener is heard would be a big clue that it was no longer alive.
Dotty The Dalmation showing off her favourite Play Dead trick even in death
The freeze dry process costs hundreds of dollars for even the smallest animals, and thousands for a larger dog, such as a Golden retriever. In part, that’s because it takes skill and time to prepare and pose an animal properly.
Freeze-drying machines themselves are incredibly expensive, running in the tens of thousands of dollars. The machines also require lots of electricity to run. At several hundred dollars a month in power bills, costs add up quickly. And freeze-drying isn’t a fast process: It might take six months to prepare a 10-pound cat, said Anthony Eddy, owner of Anthony Eddy’s Wildlife Studio in Slater, Missouri. For an 80- or 90-pound dog, freeze-drying might take a year. So if you want your pet elephant preserved, forget it, you’ll be as dead as your pet by the time it is ready to take home.
A representative of the US Taxidermists Association said: “What we hear from pet owners is that they’re so attached to their pet, they just can’t stand to bury their pet or they don’t want to cremate it. It is just too precious to them. Taxidermy is a whole different game for us now. You have to be a counselor as well as a craftsman, you know what I mean? It’s tough.”
So it’s better to have your furry faced friend end up in a lanfill after you have turned up your ties is it?
Many clients are older or single and living alone, having a loved pet preserved so they can fondle it and talk to it gives them comfort. Maybe so, but if America was not such a creepy society in which people are isolated and alienated from their communities would friends and family not do that better that the dead creatures shown above?
Though this idea may sound weird now we should remember the how idea of two men marrying each other would have sounded 50 years ago. So you may be certain it is only a matter of time before Americans are having their deceased human dead ones freeze dried and posed stiing in their favourite chairs.
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