“We never really get over the passing of someone, we just work out how to smooth out the painful spikes of losing them,” says Bubblegum Ink’s tattoo artist Paul Cutler. “Cremation tattoos are the only guaranteed way to keep your loved ones with you forever.”
Alongside the increasing number of pet owners asking for their pets to be cremated in the UK, so has the number of these owners using these ashes to form a part of a memorial tattoo.
One of the UK’s best-known cases of cremation tattoos was a military dog handler, Sergeant Dave Heyhoe who served with the dog, Treo, in Afghanistan.
After they both retired from the British Army, Treo went to live with Heyhoe permanently but after as Treo passed away on 14 October 2016, Heyhoe decided to contact Cutler and tribute a tattoo which included his “best friends” ashes in a paw print over a poem.
When Cutler’s client-first walked into his Cheshire-based tattoo studio asking for a cremation tattoo, he jumped at the chance to experiment with the unique request.
With the help from microbiologists, funeral directors and crematoriums alongside hospital consultants and tattoo ink manufacturers, Cutler worked out a way that would not be just “symbolistic” but a way where they would be “in harmony”.
Since then, Cutler says that he has completed “a menagerie of cremation tattoos including various animals” ashes, including parrots, tortoises, goats, cats, dogs, horses and even every age group of human ashes.”
Explaining the process, Cutler says when a client arrives he pre-prepares a bottle of sterile tattoo ink and reduces the molecular size of the ashes to be consistent with the molecular size of the tattoo pigment.
He adds: “They are sterilised three times within the ongoing processes to ensure they are sterile while entering and exiting the various processes. The ashes are also filtered to extract any medicinal or heavy metal remnants before they are combined and completely infused with the ink.”
Once the ashes are refined, Cutler says there is no distinction between animal or human in regards to the process. He has also extracted “workable” ashes from animal teeth, but says “the leg bones contain the most medicinal remnants, which needs to be extracted from the ashes and filtered from them as well as removing heavy metals.”
Cutler believes the concept of animal ashes tattoos being “unethical” is a thing of the past, as many of his clients who have memorial tattoos that include animal ashes return and express the “feeling of reconnection with their lost loved ones”.
He adds: “We all know, however painful it is, that a dog has a given life span, on the most part we outlive them and their passing is going to happen. This is where the celebration of life connected comes from.
“A dog is our given confident, forever in love with us and is never happier than with their owner. Their endearment and bond with their owner are reciprocal and while we get a lot of tears with dog ashes clients, when the tattoo is finished, they are always happy to be connected with their lost loved one.”