More and more pet owners are looking to taxidermy to keep memories alive
Words By Carmen Macri
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
It pains me to say that stuffing the family pet has made somewhat of a comeback, based on social media posts anyway. Losing a beloved animal is never easy, and there really is no right way to say farewell, but maybe turning the family pooch into a rug is more traumatizing than heartwarming. (Yes, someone actually did this, then tried to sell it on Facebook.)
We love walking through natural history museums and seeing once-living animals frozen in time in their natural habitats. Even a deer head mounted on a wall does not warrant a second glance to most people. Pharaohs and royalty have been found buried next to their mummified pets, so why does gutting and stuffing our own pets seem so… disturbing?
There are dozens of different taxidermy styles. The most common is the original taxidermy when an animal is stuffed and mounted on some sort of stand. It usually involves arranging an animal’s real skin over a premade form to make the animal look alive. Freeze-dried taxidermy is exactly what it sounds like. Using cold temperatures and vacuum pressure, taxidermists can remove all moisture from the animal while keeping the muscles and tissue intact — meaning the pet will remain in its original form. Welcome to Uncanny Valley.
May Baril is a professional taxidermist located in Quebec who has a deep appreciation for the art. “Life and death are two inseparable things,” Baril explained. “We are no longer in 1850; no one kills for taxidermy anymore. It is now about conservation and respect; the art of preserving the beauty of an animal forever and paying homage to it.”
Baril has been practicing taxidermy since early 2013. She fell into it by accident after moving into a home in the countryside of Quebec. She raised rabbits in a shed she built on the property, but she only used the rabbits’ meat. Not wanting to waste the skin and fur (Baril has a strict no-waste policy), she decided to look into taxidermy as a way to preserve them. After countless hours of watching videos and reading books on the subject, Baril decided she was ready to taxidermize her first rabbit. Both Baril and her husband were surprised with the outcome. Clearly, she had stumbled upon her calling. Rather than a regular bunny, Baril created a jackalope, which led to her business name, May Jackalope.
“[Pet] taxidermy is a multidisciplinary art,” Baril said. “You need to have a flame, a passion. For me, it’s an obsession. You have to unconditionally love animals and have a lot of patience and resourcefulness.”
Pet taxidermy is a tricky thing with many seeing it as taboo. Dozens of cult classic horror films portray taxidermists as psychotic serial killers. Because taxidermy deals with death and “rebirth,” there is a stigma surrounding the entire art. People associate it with something morbid and gruesome when that is rarely the case. All of Baril’s taxidermy subjects are ethically sourced.
While there is some crazy taxidermy out there, (like the dog rug previously mentioned or the deceased cat turned into a drone), Baril wants to create something modest and beautiful for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Game taxidermy is one thing, but pet taxidermy takes things to a whole other level.
“Pet clients are very emotional when I meet them. They are grieving. It’s also a big facet of my job that people don’t see; having to console these grieving clients and reassure them,” Baril explained. “Other taxidermists do not have this problem. When we talk about a domestic cat, who stayed with its owner for 18 years, I have no room for error. It’s a very delicate situation. I don’t want my client to not recognize their animal and go through a second mourning.”
Baril loves to work with domestic cats and refuses to perform on any sort of wild animal; she sees no point. In her mind, taxidermy is an art based on respect and love. In fact, Baril fell into the industry faster than anticipated simply because she saw so much bad taxidermy done with little care.
“It was when I realized that most of the taxidermy of cats that I saw on the internet was horrible and uncomfortable,” Baril mentioned. “I wanted to see if I would be able to pay homage to them. Cats are magnificent creatures and do not deserve to be ‘stuffed’ so poorly.”
Social media is a double-edged sword for Baril and most pet taxidermists. While some people love and appreciate what taxidermists do and are interested in behind-the-scenes material, others are outraged.
“It pains me a lot when strangers bully me, send me hate messages, and even death threats. They are simply uneducated; I don’t blame them,” Baril said. “ But I don’t always have the time and the psychological strength to talk to them individually and to explain to these people in great detail that what I am doing is good and done with love.”
And while Baril does offer her services for grieving owners, taxidermy is not her preferred way to cope with the loss of a pet. She understands she has a talent that comforts people, but she cannot bring herself to stuff her own pets. Any pet she has lost has a special place in a pet cemetery with headstones and blooming flowers.
Pet taxidermy, like most trends, will come and go and come back again. While it is not everyone’s cup of tea, when done respectfully, (again, not turned into a rug or drone) it can be a beautiful art.
To see Baril’s work, check her out on at @May.jackelope on Instagram.