One of the biggest things I miss about Tia is her incredibly soft snuggles. Among my family and friends, it was widely acknowledged that she was the most touchable, silky-wonderful cat on the planet. It was a pleasure to pet her and cuddle with her. Thankfully, she loved to be with me. Like, all of the time. I was lucky. Spartacus has equally lovely fur, though in a different way. His is thick and glossy with an incredibly dense undercoat that's more like down than cat hair. I don't know how he doesn't overheat with all of that furry softness. Though he isn't as much a cuddler as Tia was, he still loves getting pets and enjoying sitting close.
But I digress. One of the things I knew I would want to preserve about both of my cats was their amazing fur. Sure, I have pet portraits and great photobooks of my kitties but they're not the tangle remembrance I knew I would look for. So more than a year before Tia passed away, I started to think about how to keep and protect it. What I discovered is that making touchable mementos with pet fur is extremely challenging. If you just put it into a bag, over time it starts to ball up and lose the distinctiveness of the colour and how the fur lays. You can preserve it in things like resin jewelry – I love the creative act of making pet memorials like that – but those options make it impossible to experience the touch of the fur.
So, through trial and error, I’ve come up with a few techniques for clipping pet fur and then preserving it in ways that are not only touchable, but also archive-safe so that they’ll remain intact for years to come. I hope you find them useful.
How to Keep Your Pet’s Fur Safe For Years to Come
Before you go about clipping your pet’s fur or collecting it from some another source, and regardless of what you plan to do with it later, you’ll need a way to store it that’s safe and secure. This is the basic method I’ve developed for safeguarding my kitties’ fur:
Be quick with the tissue
Whether you’re at the vet’s office or clipping hair at home, have a Kleenex close by. Carefully lay the fur down into the tissue so that the ends of the hair are all lined up in shallow rows. In other words, you want all of the fur oriented in the same direction and not stacked too deeply. You want to prevent the fur from getting tangled up, so it helps to lay it as flat and straight as possible.
Fold it up like an envelope
Next, you want to fold up the sides of the tissue around the fur kinda like an envelope. Again, do so in a way that encourages the fur to lay flat and smooth. Tape it up and gently write your pet’s name and the date on the tissue for reference later.
Slip the tissue envelope into a bag
Don’t let the elements ruin your preserved pet fur – protect it from moisture and heat by putting the little tissue envelope into a plastic bag that can zip closed.
Don’t carry it around in your pocket or purse
Whatever you do, if you collect the fur while at the vet’s office, be sure to take it out of your pocket or purse as soon as you get home. If you let it roll around for a long period of time, the hair is bound to become just an unruly, unrecognizable ball of fluff.
Transfer your pet’s fur into an archival storage system
If possible, create a really safe place for your pet’s fur to rest by moving it all to archival-types materials once you’ve collected it. I recommend acid-free and lignin-free tissue paper, plastic archival bags, and keepsake boxes to ensure you preserve your loved one’s hair in its original form. Items such as these are made with pH-neutral components which help preserve the natural colour and texture while at the same time preventing breakdown of your animal companion’s hair. At the very least, I recommend using an acid-free, lignin-free archival type of bag. If you really want to go all out, place the bag into an archive-safe box. The box can actually come in handy for preserving other items from your pet’s life and doesn’t have to solely be used to store his or her hair, of course.
By the way, if you were to order from me one of my customized pet fur jewelry memorial pieces, this is how I would want you to send fur to me. Ideally, it would be great if you could send at least 5 cm (2 inches) of fur for each piece you want created to ensure I have enough. Of course, I will return any unused fur to you in archival-quality tissue and bags to be sure you have some left for any other uses you may have.
Guidelines for How and When to Collect Your Animal Companion’s Hair
First and foremost is knowing when to collect your pet’s fur. Perhaps one of the easiest times to do so is when you’re at the vet’s office. You know, those times when the vet needs to shave away parts of your dog’s or cat’s fur in order to do a procedure such as draw blood or conduct an ultrasound? That’s when you need to swoop in and preserve whatever fur they remove. It’s a great way to get a large quantity of hair all at once. It's also usually removed close to the skin - that means you can visualize the fur from root to tip and therefore preserve the overall appearance of their colouring with this kind of sample.
Ok, but what if you don’t have any vet visits planned for the near future? How do you know where to do the clipping and how often to take samples? Let me just note a few principles to guide you as you determine a timeline and locations from which to collect the little patches of hair.
Start early. Really, really early
If you have the luxury of time, I recommend you begin this process months or years before you think your pet will pass away. In fact, if you’re in the middle of your animal companion’s life, why not just start now? There’s no time like the present! Not only does this allow you to spread the snipped patches out over time, it also ensures you have what you need to remember your pet in the event that something sudden happens to take him or her from your life.
Another bonus: you’ll get your friend’s fur when it is healthiest and at it’s loveliest. You may know from experience that as senior pets start to decline, so does the luster and beauty of their hair. Most of us want to remember our pets when they’re in their prime. So start now. It cannot hurt.
Collect multiple times over a period of months
Lest you think I’m a cruel human who’s suggesting you cut your pet bald in order to preserve fur… (I’m not!), let me clarify my approach: rather than take all the hair you need at one time, try to collect little bits of your pet’s fur over the course of multiple sessions. As I mentioned, for Tia, I started over a year before she passed away. I knew that her health was declining, and so I set a reminder for myself to clip a little bit of fur every month.
Snip fur from different colour areas on the body
Don’t just clip from the same place every time. Try to spread out the bare patches by taking some from the shoulder and some from the belly and some from under the chin. This prevents the creation of large bald patches that may be uncomfortable for your pet. It also gives him or her time to grow fur back after each clipping.
By moving the locations from where you snip the fur, you also ensure that you get fur that showcases the various colours your pet may have. Tia’s lovely dark and light oranges as well as her small white patches were all preserved by doing this. With Spart, I’ve been able to capture his dark black, rust-brown, and white patches as well.
Have a helper
You’ll be working with some sharp instruments, and you don’t want to injure your furry friend – nor yourself! So if possible have a friend work with you to stroke and/or distract your pet as you clip.
Reward your pet’s patience
Give your dog or cat a treat once you’re done collecting the fur. This will minimize the rudeness of the procedure, and besides, it’s just nice to be nice to the ones we love.
One caveat: If you’re in the awful situation of having to collect fur for a touchable pet memento after a sudden death of pet (and I am so sorry if this is your story), the entire process will be sped up. Most importantly, preserve some of your pet’s fur before he is she is cremated or buried. If your loved one is with the vet, you may want to ask someone there to assist you by doing the collection for you. Be sure to specify how much you want them to collect and from where on your pet's body so that you get enough and a variety.
How to Clip Your Pet’s Fur
Alright, we’ve laid the groundwork. Now into the details of my pet fur collection method:
1. Get prepared
First you need to get everything you need together in one place. At the very least, you’ll need a pair of sharp scissors, some tissue and tape, and a way to reward your animal friend for helping you in your mission. Get it all together in one place before you disturb your rabbit or hamster or cat so that the process takes as little time as possible.
2. Calm your pet
Whatever way works to get your pet to become restful and serene, use it - catnip, squeaky toys, food treats, television, or whatever. If you have a friend helping, have him or her be the primary cuddler and distracter. While he or she gives pets and cuddles, strategize from which areas of the body you’ll want to collect this time.
3. Hold out about 1 1/3 cm (0.5”) of fur
When you’re ready, gently hold on to a small patch of fur. I’d recommend taking no more than about 1.5 cm or 0/5” of fur at a time.
4. Clip close to the skin – but not TOO close!
Lift away from the skin. Eyeball the roots of the fur and carefully but quickly snip.
5. Give your cat or dog a quick rub
Your pet shouldn’t experience any injuries from this method, nor should it be too uncomfortable for him or her. But it cannot hurt to lay the remaining fur down and then give your pet a little rub where you just snipped the fur. Awww…
6. Repeat in a new area
If you want to collect another small bit of hair in the same session, use the methods above but go to a different location on your pet’s body so that you don’t expose too much skin all at once.
Now, use the method above to place your pet’s snipped fur into a safe and secure storage system. You can simply use this approarch to save some of your pet’s fur to have it later – open up your little envelope for a little peek or to rub it against your cheek after he or she has gone. And if you plan to use your pet’s fur in another project – such as my touchable sticky-paper keepsake or in a piece of pet hair jewelry such as one you make yourself, my hidden treasure memorial necklace, or my touchable pet memorial pendant (for instance!) – you’ll have it in a convenient device until you’re ready to use it.
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