Grieving Pet Owners Can Opt for Stuffing, Freezing-Drying Deceased Pets

PHOTO: Mary Kaufman of Lonoke, Ark., had her beloved Yorkie Brittney stuffed and freeze-dried after she died.

Mary Kaufman of Lonoke, Ark., still sleeps near her beloved Yorkshire terrier Brittney, even though the dog is long dead.

After Brittney died last year at age 14, Kaufman, 64, bypassed the pet cemetery and backyard burial to have the little dog stuffed and freeze-dried. Kaufman said being able to still look at and touch the deceased pet made her feel like Brittney, her loyal companion, was still with her.

"Brittney represents a lot to me," Kaufman said. "I lost a husband and I lost a son and I had Brittney during that time. When we lose a family member, we don't just forget about them and just move on. They're still a part of our lives. That doesn't mean I have to let go of the past."

Pets are a huge industry in the United States. The American Pet Products Association estimates that Americans will spend almost $53 billion on their pets this year. The association's 2011-12 National Pet Owners Survey says roughly 62 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 72.9 million homes.

Preserving beloved pets after death through stuffing and freeze-drying has gradually become another option for owners.

Daniel Ross, 35, a professional taxidermist who preserved Brittney, is the owner of Xtreme Taxidermy, a burgeoning business he runs out of a shed in the front yard of his home in, of all places, Romance, Ark.

"If you raise something for 15, 20 years, it's not just simply a pet anymore. It's part of the family," Ross said. "Some people think it's weird ... but I can tell you that for all the customers that I've had, and I've seen the joy and happiness, the peace that it brings back to their life to have their beloved cat or dog or whatever back, it's worth it."

In his office, Ross has freeze dryers packed with pets from across the country. It costs about $500 to $700 to have an average-sized dog stuffed with cotton and freeze dried. The process takes months, and people don't just send their cats and dogs. Ross has received a prized rooster and a hairless rat, among other odd requests.

Ross said one Texas woman paid a few hundred dollars to have him pose her deceased spider monkey with an empty can of her late husband's favorite beer glued to its hand. She then wanted her husband's ashes poured into the empty can.

Such unique requests garnered Ross and his business their own reality TV series on Animal Planet called "American Stuffers," with each episode ending with a pet owner reuniting with his dearly departed. But Ross said he didn't get into the pet preservation business to make money.

"I'm a professional. I'm not some backwoods taxidermist," he said. "It's an odd way to make a living, and trust me ... I never would've thought that I'd be working on somebody's beloved pet and being on TV, or anything like that."

Kaufman also appeared on an episode of "American Stuffers," which showed the great lengths she took to make preserving Brittney possible, including keeping the dog in her freezer for "a couple of weeks." Kaufman added that she doesn't care if people think she is "crazy" and said she plans to have Brittney buried with her when her time comes.

"A lot of people do choose to bury their animals, or have them cremated. If that is what they choose, I think that is fine, but I don't think that anybody should criticize anybody for what you do with your pet," she said.

ABC News' Lauren Effron contributed to this report.

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