Owners spend thousands freeze drying their cats and dogs
Pet owners who do not wish to bury their beloved animals have another option that means they can cherish their cat or dog long past their death – freeze-drying.
For the cost of a pedigree dog and a wait that is sometimes months, any pet can be frozen in a pose that resembles their appearance in life then kept at home to be admired for years to come.
Spending $3000 to freeze-dry a labrador might seem a large investment but they will never again require feeding, walking or much grooming. Just don’t leave frozen Fido too close to the heater.
Queensland’s Markus Michalowitz has run Down Under Taxidermy since 1999 and opened Pet Preservation in 2010, as the first business to freeze-dry pets in Australia.
From his workshop at Amamoor, about 150 kilometres north of Brisbane and 15 kilometres south of Gympie, Mr Michalowitz has freeze-dried pets from birds to goats.
‘I’m the biggest pet preserver in Australia, I think,’ Mr Michalowitz says. ‘I’m the only one that’s freeze-drying.’
Freeze-drying differs from traditional taxidermy in that it preserves the entire animal, rather than just fitting a hide around a frame.
Mr Michalowitz freeze-dries about 80 pets a year, which is one third of his business. The other two thirds of his work is taxidermy on game such as boars and deer.
Hunters generally only want a hide preserved and do not much care about a mounted animal’s facial expression.
‘Whereas pet owners definitely do because they’ve had the pets for years,’ Mr Michalowitz says. ‘Every pet’s got an expression. Every animal does.’
‘All I’m doing is preserving a three-dimensional picture instead of two dimensions. Something that they can touch.’
Pet Preservation caters for owners who go a step beyond wanting their pets buried or cremated with a permanent memorial. They want to still be able to pat their departed pooch or moggy.
‘We know how important your pet is to you,’ its promotional material states.
‘The loss of a dearly loved pet is a very difficult experience that can leave a tremendous hole in your life. Sometimes, the grief can be overwhelming.
‘But you don’t have to go on without your pet.
‘Through the use of new techniques in freeze-dry preservation we now offer a “loving and lasting” alternative to burial, cremation, or traditional invasive taxidermy.
‘Freeze-dry pet preservation preserves your pet with minimal intrusion or alteration to their appearance
Pet Preservation freeze-dries ‘everything from cats and dogs to birds and lizards, so you can continue living your life with the support of your pet.’
Freeze-drying removes the decaying process. A combination of very low temperature and vacuum application inside a freeze-dry chamber removes all moisture and leaves tissue otherwise unchanged.
‘Upon completion of the process, your pet is returned to room temperature, and remains indefinitely in the same condition thereafter, subject to the same care and treatment as other valued possessions,’ according to Mr Michalowitz’s website.
Most conventional taxidermy involves fitting an animal’s hide around a plastic form or other type of artificial mounting. Freeze-drying preserves the animal’s whole body.
‘Doing it traditionally you can’t get the detail back,’ Mr Michalowitz says.
The Pet Preservation process starts by preparing and posing a dead pet, supported by a framework, then freezing it in that pose. Getting the animal’s expression right is important to owners.
‘We’re talking mainly the facial features,’ Mr Michalowitz says. ‘They want it to look close to what it used to look like.’
The dead animal is placed in a 180 centimetre by 90 centimetre sealed vacuum chamber and the temperature reduced to -50 degrees celsius. Frozen moisture is converted to gas, which is extracted from the chamber.
Mr Michalowitz says a small dog or cat would typically take eight to 12 weeks to complete the process but larger animals could take up to five months.
The hardest animals to freeze-dry are dogs with wrinkles or heavy folds of skin such as pugs.
The size of a pet and how a customer wants it posed determines the price. Mr Michalowitz requires a considerable deposit as some pet owners change their mind about preservation after buying another pet.
A pet up to 4 kilograms costs $1200 to have freeze-dried, with every extra kilogram up to 10 kilograms costing a further $150. Beyond 10 kilograms, each extra kilogram costs $75. The biggest animal Mr Michalowitz has freeze-dried cost its owner $4500.
Before the freeze-drying, Mr Michalowitz asks for pictures of the pet to create a pose and appearance as close to lifelike as possible.