Their names are Mopsi, Tyson, Lora or Peppino and they are Persian cats, budgies, hamsters, chihuahuas or rabbits. Or to put it better: They were and should be preserved as a memory, for cuddling and caressing. In Bochum, they are prepared by hand at MemoryPets for a growing number of customers.
Several dogs and cats have just finished and are waiting to be picked up. You only notice that the little guys aren't just dozing in their baskets, but are artificial products, when you carefully pull on their fur. A few jerboas are just coming in.
How does this all work? The beginning sounds sober: the carcasses are sent deep-frozen in extremely well-insulated shipping boxes with cooling units to Bochum. Or they are brought personally to the taxidermists Jennifer Dörk and Laura Eberhard: "Most of them prefer to give us their pets themselves," says Dörk. There is also a driver who recently picked up two cats in Munich.
Dörk: "We're doing a bit of grief counseling"
"We also see ourselves a bit as undertakers and do a little bit of grief counseling," says Dörk (44), who has been preparing animals for 20 years - previously also wild animals. It makes a difference whether you prepare pets with great care and piety for grieving owners or whether a shot roebuck should be processed into a trophy. Both women have completed a three-year training course to become state-certified preparation assistants. MemoryPets is the only provider in Germany that only grooms pets.
The work steps: First, the skin is removed. "It's like taking off a jacket," describes Dörk. The fur is preserved at the tanner. Depending on the order, the carcass is positioned sitting, lying or standing and frozen for fixation. The taxidermists later create a cast of the outer body shape, the inside is filled with hard foam. If desired, ashes from the cremated animal body can be integrated into the artificial shell. The fur is pulled over it. Modeling, inserting glass eyes. Then make-up, i.e. color on the face. An airbrush spray gun, scalpel, brush and tweezers are ready.
"The animals all have their own personality, which is reflected in their faces and posture," explains Eberhard (32). Photos of the pet during its lifetime are important as templates. "Where exactly are the wrinkles on the face, how big are the eyes, how are the corners of the eyes turned out - these are all subtle details that we pay attention to. Like a portrait." A Persian cat is currently waiting for color for its gray nose. At the next table, fine needles ensure that a rabbit does not lose its accurately created facial features during the drying process.
How many people work in the profession nationwide is not recorded. The profession of taxidermist is also not a protected designation. Around 450 people are organized in the Association of German Taxidermists, of whom around 250 come from the field of biology, says association head Frank-Michael Weigner.
Customers are a cross section of society
And who are the customers? A cross-section of society at MemoryPets. Some also want paw prints, a bag of bones, canines or claws as a souvenir, reports Eberhard. A heart-shaped pillow made from animal fur was recently ordered.
Renata Cwielong-Bieniek brought her Yorkshire bitch to Bochum last summer. "I couldn't separate, I couldn't just throw them in the ground or burn them," says the 41-year-old. "I wanted to keep her with me." It took two months before the stuffed animal was ready to be picked up. A 1200 euro investment, express service. Your Luca is now on the living room shelf. "Sometimes the tears still flow. Then I stroke her fur, it's good for me." Some acquaintances reacted without understanding, she does not regret the step, emphasizes the Dortmund native.
Cat for around 900 euros, dog from 1000 euros
In the meantime, due to the high demand, it usually takes almost a year for a copy of the pet to be ready at MemoryPets. And the work has its price: on average, a cat costs around 900 euros. Dogs start at 1000 euros, it can also be four or five times as expensive.
"All customers share an unbelievable love for their animal. Anyone who hasn't had a particularly close relationship with their pet won't have it groomed either," says Eberhard. There is sometimes criticism that it's all disgusting. She thinks: "The death of a beloved pet cannot be prevented, but what you do with it afterwards should be up to you."