Rednecks with money equals “American Stuffers”
And just when you think you’ve about seen it all on television, along comes something else that makes you wonder, “Who comes up with this stuff?”
Now, I must confess that I like a lot of different shows. I don’t like soap operas (daytime or nighttime) and I certainly don’t like most sitcoms. The majority of the time you’ll find my television tuned to History (even though they really don’t show many historical shows anymore), Discovery (absolutely love Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs), Science Channel (I really would love to own a store like Oddities and the things they find are awesome), or BBC America (Top Gear, Doctor Who — just a small sampling of the British shows I love). If I can find something educational I’ll be more than happy to watch it over any tarted-up “reality show” where every other word has to be bleeped. I used to enjoy Hell’s Kitchen but you can only listen to someone be so BLEEPingly BLEEP BLEEP without it getting really old.
So last night I sat down to surf the zillion channels available on satellite in the hopes of finding something, anything, worth watching. Occasionally I’ll tune-in to Animal Planet. I like their shows Dogs 101 and Cats 101 and occasionally they have a few others that might hold my interest. I’d watch some of the animal rescue shows but then I’d just get upset seeing how people mistreat their pets and be in a crappy mood for the rest of the day. And don’t get me started on Animal Hoarders — we can’t even have that show on because Youngest Son gets so angry at the people and cries when he sees the animals that can’t be saved.
Suddenly, a show started from which I could just not look away. It wasn’t in a “that’s so incredibly awesome” sort of enrapturement as a “really bad car accident” kind of not being able to look away. Their new show was starting — American Stuffers.
Now, if you’ve not heard of this show yet, I’d suggest you sit down before continuing because it is certainly not like any other reality show on television. The Ross family of Romance, Arkansas, owns and runs Xtreme Taxidermy. And when I say “family” I mean ALL of them. Mrs. Ross is a school teacher, but Mr. Ross and their three sons get very hands-on with the preparation of animals to be stuffed. There are also two other employees of the shop (one that showed-up one day with a roadkill deer on the back of his moped) and a veterinary student intern named Dixie who gets incredibly grossed-out by dead animals or the idea of having to touch them. I think she needs to rethink her major!
Other than the standard taxidermy that is performed in their little shop north of Little Rock, Xtreme Taxidermy specializes in a very odd form of preservation. They taxidermy pets. And they don’t just skin them and put them on mounts like you do your prized deer or moose head. The pets are freeze-dried so that they’ll last forever.
I’d already heard of freeze-drying animals, especially in the scientific community where specimens could be preserved. If you had a two-headed pig or a set of conjoined lambs that didn’t survive, you could have a scientific group prepare them by freeze-drying so that they could be used in the classroom to explain biological anomalies. Seeing a real, three-dimensional representation is much easier to learn from than a photo in a textbook or just trying to take someone’s word for it.
But pets? Yes, there are pet cemeteries all around the United States where people pay a lot of money for their pets to be buried in elaborate caskets with ornate headstones. I have Cody, my previous service dog, buried in the back yard with a plaque over the site. The only reason we buried him is because we couldn’t do what we normally do when a pet dies — have them cremated. No one in our area does that. But in the past when a pet has finally gone to wait at the Rainbow Bridge, we’ve taken their body to the vet’s office to have them cremated and then sprinkled their ashes in places they loved to play or just lay in the sun in the backyard. I had considered getting an urn to keep Cody’s ashes if we could have had him cremated, but it just wasn’t to be.
I totally understand how people are so attached to their pets. Anyone who tries to brush-away your grieving by saying, “It was just a dog/cat/hamster/rabbit/etc.” has no idea how much a part of the family they become. True, I can get another dog/cat/hamster/rabbit/etc., but it’s not going to be the same animal and it’s still not going to fill the void the recently deceased has left. And don’t get me started on those who are trying to clone dead pets….
But freeze-drying a pet? I love my pets and service dogs immensely, but I’m not so sure I’d want to have it staring at me for the rest of time. Or even if you get it done with its eyes closed, it’s still going to be there and you can’t hug and cuddle it like a live pet. Plus you have to dust it just like any other knick-knack in the house and heaven forbid you have company over and someone’s toddler decides to play with it and snaps off a body part. Don’t laugh at that — there was an episode last night where after having a Chihuahua in their freezer for four years a family decided to have it freeze-dried along with another dog that had just recently passed away and their kid kept trying to play with them like dolls. Even Mr. Ross said it would be a miracle if they got home with them intact or if he didn’t receive a phone call in the next two months because she’d snapped the head off of it.
Part of my family is from that northern-central/northeastern part of Arkansas. I grew up in the Bootheel of Missouri. We were rednecks and we knew it. When I got a job as a newspaper editor in one of the “hill-country” counties just north of “Southeast Missouri-proper,” I knew I was a redneck. They were hillbillies and darned proud of it. They couldn’t understand me and vice versa. It was almost a Deliverance-like experience that has shaped (and scarred) my life forever. So when I watched the show, I understood their accents (even the one shop employee whom the network thought needed subtitles to understand), and I understood that hunting wild hogs or picking up a road-kill deer wasn’t something considered out of the ordinary. Seeing a young girl coming into their shop to claim her oven-dried hog skull from her first kill didn’t faze me a bit. Husband, however, was laughing himself silly because nothing seemed to shock me or appear disturbing in my opinion.
And then the lady with the racoon appeared. I’ve had friends that have had all sorts of weird pets. And, yes, I’ve seen the horrible tourist-trap taxidermies that have been done like the lizards that are supposed to be a mariachi band or the snakes posed as if they’re going to strike. And, yes, I’ve even seen the ever-famous jackalopes. But I’ve never known anyone to keep a racoon as a pet. Those things are mean. Really mean — as in “eat your neighbor’s small dogs or cats” mean. This lady had a 40-pound racoon that she’d raised as a pet that had, sadly, become roadkill. She wanted it mounted so she could always remember it. I guess the large photo album she brought with her wasn’t enough.
When Mr. Ross went to the lady’s single-wide trailer to deliver the mount, she proudly showed the places where the racoon had chewed through cabinets and left a path of destruction through the home. Of course it did! It’s a wild animal! But instead of spending money to repair or replace the damages, she gets the animal stuffed. This is the part of the show where I’ve got issues.
I don’t want to assume bad things about anyone. And I certainly have had my time (and probably will many additional times) where I couldn’t really afford to have or do the things I wanted and hard choices had to be made. And when you’ve grown-up in that environment and in an area where it’s very prevalent, you try to remember where your priorities are. Sure, an income tax refund seems like something that needs to be spent immediately — but I’m not freeze-drying a pet with it!
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve not been so traumatized by a pet’s death that I need to have it’s freeze-dried carcass taking up precious floor or shelf space and having it stare at me. I had major surgery once and Youngest Son bought me a toy owl that had huge plastic eyes that I had to turn the thing away from me at night because it looked as if it was staring into my soul. I certainly don’t want that from a 40-pound-or-more animal glaring at me. And if it’s eyes are closed, then what’s the point of “having the pet there” where you can “interact” with it (as many of the customers said)?
I like the fact that the show is family-friendly and probably the harshest word you’ll hear would be “darn.” But I do have to agree with Mrs. Ross — you bake hog skulls in my good oven and you’re gonna hear about it!