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If a show called American Stuffers conjures visions of a behind-the-scenes look at a stuffed animal manufacturer, you couldn't be both closer and further from the truth.
Airing at 10 p.m. on Thursdays on Animal Planet, American Stuffers incorporates the heartwarming and the skin crawling into each episode by spotlighting the inner workings of a special kind of taxidermy shop.
Daniel Ross, a star of the show, runs Xtreme Taxidermy out of his home in Romance, Ark. For years, Ross rejected requests from customers to stuff pets, due in part to the difficulties of capturing their personalities. While game animals are styled using Styrofoam forms, “no supply company in the world makes forms for pets,” Ross explains.
"But one very adamant customer convinced me to look into how it could be done, and I then realized that there were a few places freeze-drying pets," says Ross, who decided to offer the option, called pet preservation, as an alternative to burial and cremation. “The most realistic look is achieved through freeze-drying because it's the animal's bones and muscle creating the shape.” Ross, whose shop is one of the few in the country that do pet preservation, also thinks “people like the idea that their pet has stayed intact.”
The show combines hijinks and heartstrings as Ross and his crew — Dixie, Fred and Joseph — go far beyond the realm of bear heads hanging above roaring fireplaces. Animal Planet Senior Executive Producer Mick Kaczorowski certainly isn't afraid to address that proverbial stuffed elephant in the room.
“After the pilot was finished, we tested to see what people thought and they loved it,” says Kaczorowski, who describes the show as "a docu-soap about Daniel and his team, his wife, LaDawn, and their kids and what takes place in their lives running his shop on the yard."
Just like other reality shows, the characters' wackier sides get camera time, but the heart of the series is really the people who've lost pets — whether it's a Great Dane, a chicken named after a Jersey Shore character or a 40-pound pet raccoon.
Ross's favorite part of the job? “Seeing the joy and excitement on a pet owner's face when they get their beloved animal back,” he says. "They just want to impress upon us how special their pet is to them."
Kaczorowski is already taking photos of his own rescue dog, Said, lounging in the position that he'll ask Ross to preserve when the time comes. "I've cried many times making this series because Daniel meets people at one of the saddest moments of their lives, but that is only one part of the show," he says. "You also laugh at the predicaments in which the team finds itself, while trying to bring happiness to the pet owners."
If you're getting the heebie-jeebies envisioning a neighbor suddenly freeze-drying Puggles and Persians to make extra cash, fear not. Pet preservation requires a specialized machine, it isn't a quick process and it takes real skill to naturally pose the dearly departed — the kind of touch that Ross clearly possesses. "One particularly memorable client was so overwhelmed that she was nearly speechless," he says. "She kept saying, 'Oh, Daniel. Oh, Daniel. I just can't believe how perfect she looks.' "
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