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Photo of a woman with a cat on her shoulder by Ray Skwire.

Pet tattoos: Memorializing your pet in body art

Since the 1990s, the popularity of skin art has increased dramatically, with improved tattoo equipment, new inks, a greater variety of colors, and artistic themes that range from the traditional to the exotic. One growing subgenre in the world of skin art is pet portraiture

We recently spoke with Amber, artist and proprietor of Blue Velvet Tattoo in Langhorne, PA. Amber has been tattooing for 27 years and has had her own shop for the past 18 years. 

Q: How often do people request a tattoo of a pet?

Amber: Very. I usually get at least one a month. 

Q: What’s the most unusual pet you’ve been asked to portray in ink?

Amber: A sloth. And a hedgehog. 

Q: Has anyone ever brought an actual pet into the shop to model?

Amber: No, I work from photographs. Though I did get to meet an albino skunk, but it was there to visit, not to model. 

Q: Do you have any pet tattoos of your own?

Amber: Not yet. I’m holding out for the day I get my tiger!

Pet tattoos are not only a great way to honor a current pet, they’re also a wonderful tribute to beloved childhood pets. We spoke with Philadelphia photographer Ray Skwire about his ink—a portrait of his childhood dog, Bobo.

Q: What kind of dog was Bobo?

Ray: He was an Australian Shepard mix that, though not my first dog, he was the dog I grew up with.

Q: How did you come about getting the tattoo?

Ray: I had gotten this tattoo at home when a friend of a friend came over to give tattoos. He really wasn't that good with his work, and it's faded immensely, but this was actually based off a photograph. 

Q: Tell us about Bobo.

Ray: Bobo was my best friend growing up. He and his “wife” Sandy, a Beagle mix used to pull me around in my skateboard, sleep with me, protect our house from midnight raccoons and possums, and just otherwise be a young boy's best companion. He traveled with us from RI, to CT, and lastly NJ where he eventually passed away.

Q: What does having the tattoo mean to you today?

Ray: This was my way of immortalizing him and of all my tattoos, my mother loved this one the best and would comment about how he's been fading with an, "Aww, Mr. Bobo." In a way, the tat is also a link to my mother, who passed last year. She never cared for my tats. But she loved the one of Bobo.

A Few Pet Tattoo Tips

If you’re thinking of getting a pet tattoo, check out the tattoo artists in your area—particularly those specializing in portraiture. Make an appointment and check out the artist’s portfolio. Almost every shop keeps a book of photos featuring their best work, so take your time and find an artist whose style matches your vision. The goal of the tattoo artist is to capture not only the likeness, but the spirit of your pet, so once you’ve found an artist, select a favorite photo of your pet—one that emphasizes their personality. 

Remember that skin art is art. It takes time. Depending on the size and detail of the piece, several sittings may be required. When the tattoo is complete, follow the artist’s instructions for after-care. This will prevent infection and help to ensure proper healing of the tattoo. If all goes well, you’ll have a beautiful tribute to your pet that will last a lifetime.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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