Perpetual pets are the new trend for grieving pet owners
More pet owners are turning to taxidermy after the death of a beloved dog or cat, writes Allison Bray
The cuddly, floppy-eared dachshund pup lies on the floor with an outstretched paw clasping a tennis ball, seemingly poised for action.
Sadly, Jack will never romp with a ball again after meeting his maker years ago when he choked on a branch in the garden.
But that hasn't stopped Jack and scores of other dearly departed pets from across Ireland from nestling in their favourite chairs or baskets long after both they have expired, due to the renewed interest in taxidermy by devastated pet-lovers who don't have the heart to say goodbye.
While Ireland hasn't yet jumped on the freeze-dried pet bandwagon that has made modern pet taxidermy a lucrative trade in America, there is a growing demand here for perpetual pets, according to taxidermist Ingrid Houwers, of Houwers Taxidermy in Bangor, Co Down.
Ms Houwers gets up to 60 requests a year from bereaved pet owners in the Republic, looking to have their deceased dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and even spiders professionally taxidermied to look like they did when living.
But unlike the 'ex-parrot' in the famous Monty Python pet shop sketch, the animals are skilfully crafted to look like they are still very much alive or "just resting".
Yet due to the emotional complexities involved, only about half of pet owners actually go through with it, according to Ms Houwers.
"For many, the initial contact is made in a moment of grief and they're running out of options. Many just want their pet to stay with them.
"Although we are good at taxidermy, we cannot bring back the dead, only preserve the skin. People usually contact me in a moment of emotional turmoil. They desperately want to hold on."
For that reason, she allows a mourning period to take place before going through with the actual process which can between two or three months in which the skin and fur are preserved and sculpted while the remains are cremated and can be returned to the owner in the form of ashes.
Cost is also a factor, ranging from around €350 for a cat to over €1,300 for a large dog. And no two animals are alike.
"With pet taxidermy, to make it look right, we need as many photos and stories as possible, to try and recapture the character and the amount of work that goes into pet taxidermy often exceeds 60 hours," she said.
Some taxidermists won't even take pets because it's so hard to capture the animal's "soul", said Co Laois taxidermist Jim Corcoran, who turns down more requests for pet taxidermy than he facilitates.
"In the last couple of years, we've had lots of calls but I don't recommend it," he said, adding that he concedes to about 10 of 100 requests a year.
However, today's perpetual pets are a far cry from eccentric Victorian taxidermist Walter Scott's morbid yet fascinating collection of kittens at his eerie Museum of Curiosities in Bramble, England.