That last part? Yes. And if you do not like seeing dead animals or have a weak stomach, you should probably stop reading this. Because I took a taxidermy class last Friday, and small, furry bunnies were involved. (And this is the part where I lose all five readers who actually follow this blog. I also feel bad because I know people who have pet rabbits, and this makes me feel like an asshole. That said, I would probably taxidermy a cat if I found fresh roadkill. Although when I told Alberto Salad Bar that I wanted to start picking up roadkill, he said: "Absolutely not. I don't care if you taxidermy things and put them up all over the house and I would even be OK with you having a taxidermy studio, but you are not bringing roadkill home." Perhaps I should rethink our relationship.)
Why taxidermy? Because lately I've been drawn to animal heads. I'm not really sure why. I think I just like creepy things. (Have I mentioned my doll obsession? And the collection of baby heads I have at home? I'm also partial to skulls, prosthetic limbs and Victorian death photos. Party at my place, anyone?) And since I'm one of those people who believes in taking full responsibility for things (i.e., if I'm going to eat meat, eat the entire animal), I felt like I should know how taxidermy works and if I could stomach the process behind it.
Therefore, taxidermy class. The project: Rabbits. And oddly enough, every single student in the class was a woman. (So not only is Seattle the Land of Hipster Lumberjacks, it's also the Home of Creepy-Ass Ladies. I guess I fit right in.)
Not going to lie -- this made me feel sad. And there were a few times I wanted to cry. The rabbits were so small and so cute. But apparently, they were also destined to be snake food. So if we weren't going to taxidermy them, they would've been eaten alive by a reptile. (Side note: No meat went to waste. The leftover carcass was used for dog food -- I guess there are dog owners who want fresh rabbit meat for their pets and sign up for this sort of thing.)
Also, no formaldehyde was involved in the process. The rabbits were killed (with gas) and then immediately frozen. They were thawed specifically for the class. So in other words, since they were not preserved, they could still rot, which was kind of what happened with my first rabbit (again, these photos are super-graphic and disgusting, so stop reading if you hate this stuff):
The poor little guy kept bleeding, and he smelled pretty bad, and his fur was falling out, so my teacher took him away from me and gave me a different one.
Step one involved cleaning the excess blood off of the rabbit's fur with peroxide. Step two involved skinning the rabbit with a scalpel and then carefully pulling the outer layer off. The trick here was to make a shallow incision -- almost a scratch vs. an actual cut -- or you would puncture the gut and -- boom! -- poo everywhere! Thankfully, that didn't happen to me. (And the next photo is really, really disgusting, even for me.)
(Side note: Yes, looking at an animal carcass is gross and terrible. But if you think about it, this is what we eat all the time, every day. And yet it's really difficult to face what meat really is: An animal, a living thing that was most likely really cute at one point. It's much easier to eat when all you see is the packaged product or the perfect hamburger. I'm the same way -- I still struggle with meat on the bone because it makes me think: If I was cooked, would I look like that? And the answer is most likely yes.)
After you skinned the rabbit (carefully -- the ears, front legs and eyes were all very tricky and required a special technique), you turned it inside out and then rubbed it with a ridiculous amount of Borax to dry it out. During this process, you also pulled off any excess fat from the pelt.
From there, you turned it rightside out and cleaned it again with the peroxide.
And this was when I started to question my taxidermy skills. Case in point: Let's take a look at Naomi's rabbit ...
... vs. mine:
The teacher actually looked at my rabbit and said: "There is always one awkward student in the class."
Thankfully, with a lot of peroxide and cotton balls, I was able to redeem myself.
(If you're wondering why he has pins sticking out of his nose, it's because it takes about a month for taxidermy to dry, and in order to keep the rabbit's lips from drying in a horrible, horrible way, you have to hold them in place with pins.)
So that is story behind the latest creepy addition to my household.
And in case you're wondering, yes, the cats immediately went after the rabbit when I brought him home -- I rescued him just in time.
And I smelled like blood for about 24 hours after the class.