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April 13, 2013, 12:00 AM | posted by in Filmmakers
Amy Finkel is an animal lover. As a child, she had a variety of beloved pets, and it always hurt when one of them died.
"I never understood what was happening," she recalls. "Each time it occurred, I simply didn't want to let go."
Raised in a secular family, she struggled with the idea that her companions had simply ceased to exist, and still wonders if she might have found comfort in more spiritualistic explanations.
"We’re so removed from death in our culture —it’s such a taboo—and discourse about it can be stigmatized and bewildering," she observes.
An article about "outrageous pet expenditures" caught her eye several years ago, and she found herself fascinated by the way others memorialized their lost, non-human, friends.
"I was intrigued," she says. "What comfort would a somewhat life-like version of one’s pet offer? Did the pet owners believe they were cheating death? Did they believe that a soul carried over into the preserved body of their late companion? While their choices were unconventional, I empathized with their level of attachment to, and inability to let go of, their pets."
Understandably, many of her subjects were worried that they were going to be made fun of. "Occasionally it was tough to convince subjects that I wasn’t going the reality TV route," she remembers, "especially with some of my less conventional subject matter. But generally speaking, after a more in depth conversation about the subject matter, subjects were excited to be included, including the many scholars."
The result is a compassionate examination of how humans and their non-human companions interact and bond, and how people deal with the grief following the severing of such bonds. Even when she examines some of the more unusual preservation and memorialization techniques, she hopes people will view them with compassion.
"If there’s any takeaway (for the audience)," she says, "I hope it’s that people leave being more understanding of how grueling it can be to lose a pet, and that it’s not their role to judge. The stigma attached to mourning the loss of a pet needs to be removed."
Although Finkel currently lives in a no-pets-allowed apartment, her love of animals is still strong. She fostered a canine victim of Hurricane Sandy, although she still needs to find him a forever home. But one of her subjects, Mac, gave her some special companions as a thank-you for her compassionate and understanding coverage: three taxidermied animals that she has named Chompers (a groundhog), Fleisscher (an armadillo), and Angel (a wild boar).
"I feel a bit uneasy knowing that they, likely, did not die of natural causes," she admits, "so it makes me feel better to treat them in death with the dignity and respect they never received in life."
--Lara Klaber with Bridget Kriner
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