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By Steve Patterson

Slater, MO(KSDK) - Our pets. When they're with us, we often think of them as our companions, our best friends, even family.

When they die, it is often a painful loss. Now, that emotional connection between owner and pet has many animal lovers turning to a growing trend, but not without controversy.

"She was the best dog for me," said Kansas City Resident Timothy Drottz. "I love her."

Drottz is talking about his four-pound miniature Chihuahua Maggie Moo. For nearly two decades, Maggie and Tim were inseparable.

"I'm taking a dog that I had for 15 years of my life," Drottz said. "She was the best thing I ever had in my life or ever will have."

In late March of 2010, Maggie suffered a heart attack and collapsed. She died later that night in the hospital, leaving her owner in grief.

"I just grabbed her, went outside and she died in my arms," he said.

Tim thought of ways to say goodbye.

"The thought her being cremated, I couldn't do it," he said. "So I said well let's get her freeze-dried."

Tim remembered seeing a story nearly 10 years ago about a taxidermy shop, specializing in freeze-dry technology used to preserve animals and wildlife.

The story was on Anthony Eddy's Wildlife Studio in Slater, Missouri.

"Pet preservation has become a big part of our business," said owner Anthony Eddy. "People say they just can't stand to bury it or have it cremated. Once they find out that there are other ways to deal with a love one. This is an alternative and they choose it."

Pet preservation is the use of specialized form taxidermy to preserve an animal's body to keep at home.

The pets are posed, frozen forever in time. Pet owners are willing to spend thousands of dollars have a lifelike representation of their animal in their homes.

"This is why it's so popular with pet owners," Eddy said. "It's the real muscle, the real skeleton, the brain is all still with the pet. We don't have to disturb this at all."

Anthony Eddy's is the only place in Missouri that specializes in pet preservation and one of just a handful of operations across the country with the level of tech required.

"There are probably just a few people in the United States, probably about four or five," Eddy said. "We've had people from 48 states. We've also had some people come down from Canada and calls as far away as Japan and Europe."

And business is booming. Over the past few years, the shop has gone from doing about 50 pets per year to more than 150. The shop now has more than a dozen freeze dry machines, purchased during the operation's many expansions.

"Yes, our volume is increasing. With more publicity and the knowledge that this is our there, we get more calls and therefore, we get more clients," Eddy said.

The service comes at a premium. A smaller house cat can start at about $850, with larger dogs that can scale all the way to $4,000.

It's also not a slow process. Depending on the size of the animal, it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to complete.

"The amazing thing is, even in the recession, the orders for pets have continued to grow and have even increased," he said.

But not everyone appreciates the work.

"Oh yes, there's a certain percentage of the public that thinks this is sick," Eddy said.

Eddy says the shop gets many letters calling the practice as bizarre and unnatural.

"The tradition has always been, either with pets or with humans, that we cremate them or we bury them," he said. "Each to their own. It's just like anything else. Certain people like it and there are certain people that don't like it."

Drottz says it was his best option and he's proud to have had it done.

"Having a pet that you freeze-dried, I don't think it's weird at all," he said. "I love my dog. That's why I did it. I'm glad I did it."

NewsChannel 5 wants to know what you think about this new trend. Write to reporter Steve Patterson at spatterson@ksdk.com, visit our Facebook page, orfollow KSDK on twitter: @KSDKNews and use the hash tag #frozenpets.

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