When Your BFF is a Taxidermy Dog
How a Jack Russell Terrier became an online sensation — and a comfort to many — five years after her death.
If you saw a dog inside of a parked car that had no rolled-down windows, how would you react? Would you look for the owner? Call the police? Or maybe you’d smash the window to rescue the pup yourself?
That’s what Mitch Byers feared people would do if they saw his dog, a Jack Russell terrier Phoebe, inside of his car. Because in Oregon, where Byers lives, it’s legal to break a window to save an animal or child.
So before he left, he taped a note to the inside of the passenger’s window. It read: “Don’t worry, she’s really enjoying her time in here. BTW, she’s taxidermied, so no need to break the window.”
Phoebe has been dead for close to five years, passing away from old age when she was about 12 years old. After she passed — and unbeknownst to the rest of the family — Byers’ mom mailed Phoebe’s body to Colorado where a company freeze-dried and transformed her into taxidermy for $2,000.
Over the holidays, when Byers and his sister visited their parents, they were presented with a huge box that had the newly stuffed, taxidermy dog inside of it.
“My sister saw it and started to cry,” Byers told OK Whatever. “And I’m actually laughing in the background, like ‘Yo, wait. This is amazing.’ It’s so well done that it creeps out a lot of people.”
Relegated to a shelf in the living room, Phoebe became a constant fixture at family events, often found wearing festive hats or sitting beside Byers, serving as his de facto date because he hasn’t “had a girlfriend in forever.”
So last November, when he had his heart broken by a girl and decided to escape to the Oregon coast, no one in his family blinked an eye when he brought Phoebe along with him.
“It was a pretty dark and depressing time for me personally," said the 27-year-old who works as a DJ at night and as a manager at a rubber factory by day. “So I was like, ‘Fuck it. Might as well bring Phoebe to sort of keep me company and whatnot.”
To commemorate the absurdity of the situation, he snapped a photo of Phoebe and the cautionary note and shared it on social media.
People loved it.
“My phone was literally blowing the fuck up,” he said. “I had to literally turn my phone off after a while because every half-a-second or so my phone was just like going ding, ding, ding.”
The photo of the taxidermy dog landed on the front page of Reddit and went viral, leading to interview requests from TV stations both locally and abroad. Buoyed by this success, Byers created an Instagram account called My Dead Dog and Me that racked up almost 2,000 followers in its first few weeks.
Since then, he and Phoebe have been inseparable. He’s taken her with him on trips to Washington, Arizona, and Santa Barbara, California. She attended his grandmother’s 90th birthday and saw Jurassic World with him in theaters. She’s ridden in bicycle baskets and backpacks, visited rivers and beaches, and been to many a bar. She joined the Byerses when they went to view Christmas decorations last year, and she once rode atop a tiny toy train. In many ways, Phoebe’s life posthumously has been more thrilling and adventurous than it was when she was alive.
Back then, she was one of three dogs the family owned, the other two being black labradors named Lucy and Licorice. The Byerses took her in from family friends in California who couldn’t keep her because their dogs didn’t get along. Though a bit fearful, Phoebe generally got along with people, but not with any dogs outside of her pack.
“She was not the friendliest to other animals,” Byers said. “And if you were a male wearing a hat, she was not hyped about you either.”
Even though she was “technically” his sister’s dog, Byers started getting close with Phoebe in the last year of her life. When he got his tonsils removed at the age of 18, Byers spent “like two weeks or so” recovering at home and bonding with the terrier. She grew comfortable enough with him to jump on his lap and cuddle next to him in bed.
“She helped me through a lot of medical stuff when she was alive,” he said. “And that sort of sticks.”
Since starting My Dead Dog And Me, he’s received a mixture of derision and mirth from people online who either think what he’s doing is hilarious or sacrilegious. Some, tickled by photos of the taxidermy dog stuffed in airplane overhead bins and bicycle baskets, have sent messages thanking him for making them laugh “for the first time in months.” Others have said it’d be too hard to be reminded of their deceased pet on a daily basis.
Still, Byers is glad that Phoebe, although dead, can provide comfort and security to those in need.
“Getting a few of those messages, I was just like, ‘Holy shit. My issues are so petty compared to what’s really going on in today’s world.’ The world is just filled with fucked up-ness, especially now with everything going on. We have a dumb-ass president and everybody in Congress right now is pretty much fucking up. But if I can make people laugh, if I can make people smile in any way, then that would be great.”
Another motivation behind running the Instagram account is to raise awareness for shelter dogs. Although Phoebe was not a rescue, Byers has been donating the profits he’s made from doing TV interviews to a local animal shelter called the Pixie Project.
“Me, personally, I draw the line on making money off your dead animal,” he said. “I feel like that could just be a little bit weird.”
To this day, Byers still has no idea why his mom decided to taxidermy Phoebe.
“I’ve asked her so many times and she’s always like, ‘Just ‘cuz.’”
But he’s not surprised she did it.
“My mom’s very very eccentric. She’s all over the place. You never know with her.”
And it’s a decision he’s glad she made because having a stuffed dog, it turns out, is actually great fun.
“If you have a sick and twisted sense of humor, you’ll find enjoyment in it,” Byers said. “Your dog will be around forever. People won’t forget it.”
It’s also leagues easier than owning a real pet. You don’t have to feed them or clean up their waste. They don’t bark or try to chase squirrels. They weigh but a mere few pounds. And you can even take them into establishments that serve food.
There’s really only one rule when it comes to ensuring your pooch’s immortality: Don’t get them wet. Because then they’ll start to mold.
And, as Byers wisely pointed out, “That would suck.”