(WMC-TV) – A Mid-South family has made a business out of pet preservation, turning our four-legged best friends into our best friends forever.
In a modest workshop in Romance, AR, the walls of Xtreme Taxidermy are lined with wild stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes.
But when we stopped by, taxidermist Daniel Ross wasn't fawning over a fawn.
He was putting the finishing touches on a freeze dried family pet.
"I've got to do a little epoxy work around the eyes and paint the nose and just groom them," he said.
Ross helps heal the broken hearts of grieving pet owners through pet preservation.
"It's a totally different method than traditional taxidermy," said Ross.
After extracting the animals' organs and eyes, Ross uses wires to place the animals in lifelike positions and then places them into a special freeze dryer to draw out all the moisture.
"The key is drying it really slow so you don't have shrinkage problems," he said.
For instance, a 62 pound dog named "Chevy" took five months to dry out.
"The customers can still pet them and look at them, whatever they want to do," he said.
Ross has freezers full of works in progress including a cat, a bird and even a pet turtle.
"As a matter of fact, we can actually make them look better a lot of times than they did when they died," he said.
Ross' business is already booming and he's about to get busier.
After his unusual pet service caught the attention of the Animal Planet Network, he wound up starring in his own reality show called "American Stuffers."
"I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be a taxidermist or be in a reality TV show," he said. "That's crazy."
"We've done tarantulas, scorpions, hedgehogs, rabbits," he said. "We even do a chicken on our show."
"American Stuffers" combines the comic relief of Ross' staff and family with the emotional stories of customers who yearn for their dead pets to live on.
They're people like Mary Coffman's, whose beloved Yorkie "Brittney" was part of her family for more than 14 years.
Today, a preserved "Brittney" rests comfortably in her favorite basinet.
"I know she's not here, but her little spirit is still with me and some day when I'm gone she'll be buried with me," Coffman said.
Some clients drive more than a thousand miles to the tiny town of Romance, population 1,732 at last check because Xtreme Taxidermy is one of the few pet preservationists in the country and Ross is passionate about his work.
"There's definitely artwork to it," he said. "It's not something that just anybody could do."
He's also equally compassionate about his customers.
"They always feel better when they get their pet back," he said.
Though he admits, some find his work a bit extreme.
"I can understand where somebody would think that it's odd or different but, for me, it's about helping these customers overcome this grieving process," he said.
Xtreme Taxidermy charges by the pound. Small dogs start around $500.
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