The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

FROZEN IN TIME

Your much-loved pet may have died but they can now live on forever after being freeze-dried by the only person in Australia who can help

- Story LEISA SCOTT

Previous page, Amanda Such with her cherished cat, Milton, who died young and has been freeze-dried at Pet Preservati­on, Gympie; above, a preserved cockatiel looks as if it could fly off its perch.

Mark

Cranitch

lot of money on their pet throughout its life.”

Michalowit­z began freeze-drying pets about 10 years ago after a growing number of requests for moggies or mutts to be taxidermie­d. That’s his core business: scan out from the part of his workshop where pets are stored, and the walls and floors are filled with the mounted heads of wild beasts. There are buffaloes, wild boars, a host of deer varieties, a peacock, even a giraffe.

But a pet is a different prospect for taxidermy than a wild beast. Doting pet owners know every quirk; the way Rex’s ears fall, how Strawberry’s nose crinkles. “When you do a red deer, for example, no one knows what that red deer, that particular one, looked like,” says Michalowit­z. “With a pet, you never capture the expression­s if you do it with traditiona­l taxidermy.”

He tried. But the process of taxidermy, where an animal’s skin is pulled over a mould and shaped, is heavy on man hours, and only the head is generally used. To get a dog such as the mastiff looking close to how his owner remembered him would cost a minimum of $15,000. “No-one could afford it.”

So Michalowit­z started researchin­g freezedryi­ng, a process far more common in the US. An Arkansas family even made a reality TVshow out of their pet freeze-drying business, titled American Stuffers. But finding a suitable freeze-drying unit in Australia was not easy. Only eight of the industrial-size chambers Michalowit­z needed had ever been imported here, mostly used for freeze-drying fruit or flowers.

After about a year, one became available second-hand in Tasmania for $80,000 (he recently bought the second one). Then he began learning about temperatur­es, chemicals and the need to remove fat in over-loved pets for the process to work.

“There was not much informatio­n about pet freeze-drying around, it was a secret society,” Michalowit­z says. He offered to do the pets of friends, and other small animals. “I did a few test trials and, like anything, when you don’t have much informatio­n because no one will tell you, they didn’t turn out so well. But after the fifth or sixth animal, I was starting to get good results.”

He’s done more than 1000 pets since and on average, one new customer per week decides it’s what they want for Fluffy. “I never push anyone; I always tell them, ‘Think about it’,” says Michalowit­z. “I don’t want to be a salesman. I tell them what it is, what they want to know and leave them to decide.” While you decide, though, put your pet in a sealed bag in a freezer.

If the decision is “yes”, Michalowit­z has a refrigerat­ed transport company that he uses for deliveries to his workshop. But many people, no matter where they are in Australia, like to deliver their dog or cat – or guinea pig, ferret, rabbit, bird – to the door.

That’s where Michalowit­z, the counsellor, comes in. “They’re looking for anyone to tell the story of their pet to,” he says. “Just talk about the

With a pet, you never capture the expression­s if you do it with traditiona­l taxidermy

places. A bit of long-lasting insecticid­e “every now and again” helps guard from silverfish.

Occasional­ly, people decide they don’t want to take the preserved pet home. The passage of time, a new pet, has helped them move on. And Michalowit­z believes that for many others, freeze-drying is a stepping stone to burial.

“Quite a few will be buried eventually but it just gives people that time,” he says. “It might get put in a cupboard after a while and eventually they might say, ‘Well, Felix, I should probably bury you now’.”

Some will be buried with their owners.

“I’ve done several like that. I’ve done two for one particular woman now; they have to be preserved and put into a locked case. I get a nice little carved case made, with a plaque on it,” he says. “She has a key; I don’t know if she’s ever opened it.”

Other older people decide this cat or dog will be their last so they want to hold onto their little mate. Michalowit­z’s work is in a number of nursing homes, sitting on a dresser, keeping their owner company.

Michalowit­z knows the permanent reminder of a dead pet is not for everyone. “Plenty of people find it macabre; they don’t have the same level of attachment, or they deal with death differentl­y.” But Michalowit­z has seen the happiness it can bring and urges people to have an open mind.

“A lot of these pet owners have to deal with friends putting them down, saying, ‘How weird are you?’. Instead of being a friend and being supportive. They can say, ‘Are you sure you want to spend that money?’, that’s fine. But to make you sound like you’re somehow weird isn’t great,” he says. “It’s just their way of dealing with that grief.”

There was no way, absolutely none, that

Amanda Such was ever going to have any of her cats freeze-dried. Until Rosie and Milton died within two months of each other.

Such was still dealing with the pain of losing four-year-old Rosie to polycystic kidney disease when her husband answered the door to a neighbour. The woman was bearing a box and terrible news. She’d been looking out her kitchen window when she saw a grey cat slumped, lifeless, across the branches of a tree. It was Milton, just three years old.

“He fell into a tree branch and crushed himself,” says Such, 44. “We were still grieving Rosie, it was …” She trails off, wiping away tears.

Rosie had been buried in their back yard in Bulimba, in Brisbane’s inner east, “under a little angel holding a cat”. But the idea of burying Milton so soon after Rosie’s death was too much.

“I just couldn’t face it; I just couldn’t even think about it,” says Such. “Milton was the most snugly, cuddly cat. You could carry him around in your arms all day. He was my baby. He was just perfect. So good-natured, so sweet, so kind.”

Bereft, Such put Milton’s body in a downstairs freezer until she was ready to decide what to do. She hated having him in the freezer. “But I still couldn’t decide,” says Such. “So I thought,

Plenty of people find it macabre; they don’t have the same level of attachment, or they deal with death differentl­y

I’ll have him preserved. I just can’t let him go just now.”

The Suchs found themselves scouring the internet for options. “My husband and I were just like, ‘This is so weird, this feels so odd, hunting for someone who would do (preservati­on)’.” She knew she didn’t want Milton taxidermie­d. Then they found Michalowit­z.

The day before our interview, the Suchs drove to Kandanga to pick up Milton. “Would you like to see him?” asks Such.

She returns with a pretty embossed box. Inside is Milton, curled up, eyes closed as if asleep. He’s the cat I saw in Michalowit­z’s workshop a few days earlier.

“He looks thinner,” she says, stroking his ears. “I’m still a little bit freaked out by it but I’m pleased with him. I’m not the sort of person that’s going to put him on a mantelpiec­e and be like, ‘Look at preserved Milton!’ but it’s given me breathing space. And that’s nice to have. I can say goodbye more slowly.”

She says before her traumatic period of grief, she would have judged others for making the decision she made. “I would have thought, ‘God, that makes me uncomforta­ble. Why can’t you just let your cat rest in peace?’

“You think you know yourself so well but you just don’t know what you will do until the circumstan­ces arise.”

When the time is right, Milton will be buried. Until then, the little grey cat that climbed too high will be within arms’ reach, curled up, as if asleep, giving Such comfort. ■

 ??  ?? COMFORT:
COMFORT:
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia