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 Fort Loudon, Penn., taxidermist to save his beloved dog from the grave or cremation by preserving the animal instead. McCullough agreed.
Then he talked to a Wall Street Journal reporter about the process. It made the front page. Requests from bereaved owners started rolling in. Today, McCullough's taxidermy
shop, Mac's Taxidermy, is one of a handful of places around the country that will preserve not only hunting trophies, but also the hunting dog.
"It's a whole different game for us," McCullough told LiveScience. "You have to be a counselor, you know what I mean? It's tough."
McCullough and other taxidermists like him use a special process to keep Fido or Fluffy looking lifelike even in death. Traditional taxidermy involves skinning an animal and stretching its hide over a three-dimensional mold. That won't cut it for the family pet, as the animal's features end up looking generic, nothing like the unique creature that owners knew and loved.
Instead, pet preservationists use freeze-dry chambers, which lower air pressure to the point that ice turns directly into gas without going through the liquid phase. Many taxidermists use freeze-dryers to preserve small animals or fish. Taxidermist Cathy Huntley, owner of Freeze Dry By Cathy in Newaygo, Mich., first got her freeze-dryer to preserve flowers before branching into turkey heads and eventually pets. ...