By, Sammy Caiola
For me, the New Year meant a much-needed relocation to sunny Sacramento, where I settled into a dilapidated art palace full of rowdy bohemians. Upon first entering the foyer, I almost jumped back when I saw a pointy-eared dog staring me straight in the face. I normally wouldn’t have been fazed (I love dogs), but this one wasn’t running around with its tail wagging. It was dead.
I’d always thought taxidermy was a sick game played by sick men who hunted animals for sport and mounted their carcasses as trophies. I gagged at the majestic deer turned decoration at every ghost town bar, wept for the thick bear pelts strewn across ski lodge parlor floors. I hated looking into the flat eyes of a sorrowful eagle and thinking how it belonged in the sky, not on a mantle. So you can imagine why I was confused by my hippie roommate’s stuffed animal collection.
But it turns out that many animal lovers see taxidermy not as a cruel hobby but as a spiritual memorial, as was the case with my roommate, who had her dog taxidermied in remembrance. There is a whole faction of vegan and vegetarian taxidermists who only use the carcasses of animals killed by natural causes or accidents. As vegan taxidermist Nicola Jayne Hebson said in a recent interview in Vice, “I would never kill or harm another animal for the purpose of my art. My only intentions are to preserve the beauty of animals that would otherwise be discarded and labeled as waste."
One of Jebson’s piece of taxidermy art, which she sells on Etsy and in art shops. Native Foods Cafe uses this photo courtesy of vice.com.
In a way, taxidermy draws on the Native American tradition of respecting the animal by using every single part of it. Some taxidermists feel that bringing an animal “back to life” through taxidermy is a way of restoring its dignity.
That said, there are more than 75,000 taxidermists in the U.S. according to community sites, and I’d venture to say that most of them are more worried about aesthetics and bragging rights than the spiritual well-being of the animal. Not to mention those who do hunt and kill game for both food and commercial purpose. Apparently, those wishing to create and sell taxidermy pieces are supposed to possess Wildlife and Countryside Act General Licenses, which regulate the ethics and procedures surrounding the sale of taxidermy. But that’s not to say there aren’t weirdos holed up in rooms full of poached animal carcasses ignoring the rules entirely.
Native Foods Cafe uses this photo courtesy of brownbeartaxidermy.com.
It’s a tough line, and one that most vegans probably don’t even want to approach. But next time you enter a home or establishment flaunting a taxidermy mount, it might be worth it to ask for that animal’s story. Because maybe it’s not all bad.
Steve Carrell’s taxidermy mice, who were his obsession in 2010 flick “Dinner for Schmucks”. Native Foods Cafe uses this photo courtesy of artofthetitle.com
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