In the skin: Memorialising Animals in Taxidermy and Tattoo
A prevalent theme in the field of human and animal studies is the changing relationships which people share with their companion animals. Where once the family pet existed on the outer of the extended family circle, in more recent decades, and particularly among singles, it has achieved a status more akin to best-friend or child. The changing nature of this relationship is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the array of accessories currently available for purchase, which promise to pamper and personalise our pets. Where once the domestic cat was just a cat, now it is a unique individual, with a consumer status available for display. So how do we grieve such an animal when it dies? This paper considers the various ways in which pets are mourned and memorialised.
My discussion draws on the human urge to hold onto the remains of our companion animals and the way that this desire has changed since the beginning of the pet keeping era. I consider how taxidermy, backyard burial, animal cemeteries, and memorial pet tattooing are present in the process of grieving and how their appearance highlights the changing significance of the human/animal relationship within a domestic setting. Specifically, my view is toward how the intimacy of the relationships we share with companion animals continues after their deaths. This, I suggest, is a relationship which is based heavily in narrative, one which alters, even becoming confused, as new companion animals come into and exit out of our lives. Compared to the average human life span, the life of a companion animal is but a moment. As such, it is not uncommon to build significant bonds with more than one animal across our lifetime. I ask, as we accrue memento mori for each of these animals, how do our narratives about these relationships change? Can one ever replace another? How do we keep our competing memories separate?
This paper draws scholarship of Marg DeMello and Rachel Poliquin, among others, and has been developed partially from research to be published in 2019 by Emerald Publications as part of their ‘Death & Culture’ series.