Best Friends Forever is a thought provoking celebration of our furry friends

J.D. Powe tackles an unusual way to memorialize our furry friends with Best Friends Forever: The Greatest Collection of Taxidermy Dogs on Earth. It only takes a moment’s glance at the cover to know that this collection will be one of the most interesting books you’ll ever see.

Best Friends Forever is a celebration of dogs that have been memorialized through taxidermy. The cover features a collection of dog heads that have been mounted on plaques, to be hung on walls so that a beloved pup will always be present.

Powe, along with photographer Zach Ishmael, explore the complex history of canine taxidermy, which reached the height of its popularity in the Victorian era when people sought to commemorate their beloved companions in perpetuity through the now controversial practice.

Best Friends Forever explores taxidermy dogs

Any dog lover will tell you that they’d give anything to never have to say goodbye, but the idea of taxidermy as an option is much more controversial today than it used to be. At the peak of its popularity it was a means to honor an animal. It’s harder to see that perspective today, as the practice is often linked to hunters mounting a kill, not as a way to honor a fallen pet.

It’s an intriguing idea, but it’s not easily done in practice.

Best Friends Forever by J.D. Powe. Photo by Sarabeth Pollock

When I was younger I had a cat named Louis that I loved very much. I joked that I wanted to have him stuffed because I couldn’t bear the idea of not having him around. (“Stuffing” him was a much more cost-effective way of keeping him around compared to cloning, I might add) When he died, though, as much as I wanted to have him around, I was even more disturbed by the idea of him sitting on a shelf staring at me.

It’s important to note, though, that I suddenly understood the draw of taxidermy, and while I couldn’t stomach it personally I stopped thinking of it as a morbid hobby when I lost Louis because it truly is a way to honor a noble creature. Powe acknowledges in the introduction that it’s one thing to see a mounted stag and quite another to see a dog’s head. We’re wired to think of it as wrong, but if done for the right reasons it’s not such a bad thing after all.

What I love about Best Friends Forever is that Powe’s very scholarly approach to exploring the background of canine taxidermy helps readers understand the complexities of the practice. From full-body specimens to mounted heads and even action poses, there are so many examples of taxidermy. The most controversial practice, it must be said, is the dog rugs (think bear or tiger rugs), which give me chills every time I see them.

This book will certainly make for fascinating reading and it is guaranteed to be a great conversation starter if you have it on your coffee table when guests show up. Though it toes the line of fascinating intrigue and the macabre, it also reminds us that if not for some of these antique taxidermy specimens some of these dog breeds would be lost to history. Several dog breeds featured in the book don’t exist anymore, so seeing such a lifelike representation is sobering.

Best Friends Forever is available June 8, 2021, from Abrams Publishing.