As a widow, Rocky became Merita's constant companion, so she took his death hard.
“It hits your heart and your soul,” she said. “I have felt a very big void since he's been gone."
When Rocky died, Merita immediately thought of her son's occupation--pet preservation, where your animal can be in your life forever, even after its death.
“I can hold him and pet him and tell him I love him and I'm glad you're home," said Ross.
Most people find it odd to permanently holding on to a pet.
Their responses will likely be different than Merita's.
Madison Wright wouldn't preserve a pet. “It's kind of weird," she said.
“You can't make it shake or rollover. It's just a little weird and creepy for me," said Josh Rutledge
Kevin Marble said, “From stories that I've heard, it's just nasty."
Merita doesn't care what people say. For her, there was only one option. She said the thought of putting him under ground or cremation was not in her mind. “I couldn't do it," she said
The business, Xtreme Taxidermy, in Romance is the only place in Arkansas that preserves pets. It's owned by Merita's son, Daniel Ross.
The process is much different than a traditional taxidermy where the animal is skinned and the hide placed on a mold.
For pets, after taking out some of the organs and eyes, Daniel works with photos and then uses wires to place the dogs or cats in certain positions and places them into the freeze dryer.The machine draws out all the moisture. The process can takes months, sometimes up to a year, to complete.
In the end, you get a pet for life.
Daniel said once people found out they could keep a pet forever, the odd requests poured in.
Daniel talks about one of the request he received. “She said I told you all that because I want you to freeze dry my spider monkey setting on a limb holding a beer can with the ashes of my dead husband in the beer can."
Very rarely does he turn someone down. He said he just doesn't have the heart to say no.
“Some people think I'm crazy for doing this and that's not the case at all. The thing is we all deal with death differently,” he said.
Over at Fin, Feather and Fur Taxidermy in Jacksonville, you'll find dead deer, duck and turkeys, but not one dog.The owners here refuse to do pet preservation.
“We never saw a happy person with a pet,” said Dave Corely of Fin, Feather and Fur. “You can mount a pet and all but you can not put that personality back in the pet."
Corely said they've tried helping mourning animal owners before and he says there was never a satisfied customer.
“Now you've seen your pet go through two times the torment. It's just we're safe this way, we don't have to face people with crying eyes,” he said
As the saying goes, to each his own, Merita's own is getting rocky back Even if it's without a heartbeat.
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