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Lovely bones


Instead of taxidermy, one OKC company preserves dearly departed pets by cleaning and posing the doggone skeleton.

Louis Fowler May 15th, 2013

While most people look at skulls and skeletons as symbols of death, Jay Villemarette, owner and president of Skulls Unlimited International, sees life.

Or, rather, he sees a life that should be celebrated.

The retail arm of Oklahoma City’s celebrated Museum of Osteology (the only skeleton museum in the nation, natch), Skulls Unlimited has tapped a new market: preserving the family pet by cleaning and posing its skeleton.

Sound morbid? Villemarette believes it’s actually a touching tribute.

“The customers we’ve been getting recently, they’re pet lovers and they treat them like a family member,” he said. “Preserving them like this seems a whole lot more appropriate than just digging a hole in the backyard. At least this way, they get to preserve their pet and have them the way they remember them.”

Most customers requesting this service are worried they might sound like weirdoes, said Villemarette, but he’s quick to allay those fears by telling them he has “about 20 people ahead of you this week.”

The same kind of care and research that goes into each preservation job is the same that his team would do for a museum-quality piece.

“Anybody can rot down a skull in the backyard,” Villemarette said. “But to make it perfect — to keep the nasal bones and the eardrum bones intact and exactly where they belong — that’s the tedious part, and that’s where experience comes in.”

To get it correct, the team relies on photos of the pets and personal details provided by the owners.

“They give us a lot information like, ‘He always used to sit this way,’ or, ‘He’d always wag his tail this way’ ... all so we can better portray that back to them,” said Villemarette.

The process begins with dermestid beetles, which strip the bones clean of tissue. Then a series of chemicals turns the bones white and preserves them.

If you think it sounds like gruesome work, you’re not alone. Villemarette said it takes “a special person” to make it through that first day on the job.

“We’ve had many people quit at lunchtime,” he said. “It takes someone with a strong stomach and an eagerness about bones and wanting to learn about them, because there’s a lot to learn around here. It’s just really nasty.”

But worth it. “When a customer finally gets their pet back and we hear all the praises,” he said, “that’s what’s really rewarding.”

 
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