Mike Dove and Merritt Rinard both stand in their workplaces.

Skull Preservation and Sustainable Cremation: Alternative Pet Memorials


For many, losing a pet is just as difficult as losing a human loved one. Figuring out how to best memorialize their life can be stressful, and the standard options of burial or cremation aren’t for everyone. Fortunately, these two Utah animal lovers are in the business of providing alternative ways to keep the memory of your furry (and scaly) friends alive.

Skeletal Articulation

A fish skeleton in Mike Dove's hand.
Dove handles each animal with care to perfectly preserve their skeletons. Photo: Dominic Jordon.

“I told him, ‘I want to dig up my cat and put him back together,’” says Sofia Robb, reminiscing about one of her first dates with her now-husband Mike Dove. For the past ten years now, Dove has been crafting memorial artworks with animal remains as the founder of Skeletal Articulation, a small business located on the couple’s family farm in Morgan, Utah. He works with vets and taxidermists across the country, in addition to local pet owners, who entrust him to preserve their deceased animals.

The process starts with Dermestid beetles, who eat away the flesh section by section—a task which can take months. Next, the bones are degreased and whitened. Dove will then drill holes in the bones and piece them back together with wire. “[The clients] pick the pose; I do my best to match it,” he says. “At that point it becomes sort of an art project.” Dove mostly works with cats and dogs, but his biggest project to date has been a horse; other animals in his repertoire include goats, snakes, chickens, goldfish, rats, turtles—even a kinkajou and an anteater.

Dove is often able to determine details about the animal’s health; for example, he once discovered fat necrosis on a goat and a heart attack in a dog. “Some people like to know that they had a good reason to put [their pet] down. It gives them relief,” he says. As a big animal lover, he knows how important it is to handle their precious companions with care. Learn more about Dove’s services at skeletalarticulation.com, from full skeletons (typically $1000–1200) to skulls, freeze-dried hearts, lucky paws, framed fur pelts and more (from $100–500).

Utah Pet Aquamation

Merritt Rinard shows the process of aquamation.
Rinard started Utah Pet Aquamation after learning the service wasn’t offered in the area. Photo: Ashley Christenson.

When she lost her dog Trapper to kidney disease at just six years old, Merritt Rinard thought the idea of flame cremation for her sweet pet seemed too harsh. She learned about a more eco-friendly alternative called alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation, but realized that no one on the Wasatch Front was providing this service yet. Rinard took it upon herself to bring aquamation to SLC, and in July 2023—a year and a half after Trapper’s death—Utah Pet Aquamation opened its doors in West Valley City.

“It’s basically mother nature’s process, just sped up,” Rinard says of the method that mimics natural decomposition. The aquamation machine is close to the size of a commercial dishwasher, through which hot water and alkali salt cycles at a slow, gentle pace. After 24 hours, only the bones are left, which dry out and crumble into ashes within another day or two. Rinard packages the remains into a biodegradable burlap bag accompanied with a plantable seed bookmark. Meanwhile, the mineral-rich liquid byproduct goes back into the sewer system, which Rinard explains acts as a sort of probiotic for the wastewater.

As far as what kind of animals can be aquamated, as long as it will fit in the machine, Rinard says it can be done. Some of her recent clients have included the owners of a hedgehog, a parakeet and an axolotl. “It takes me back every time,” Rinard says, thinking of Trapper. In chatting with owners about their pets, she gets to hear stories about their time together. Rinard believes in providing as many options as possible for grieving pet parents. “How we say goodbye is important,” she says. Find out more about her services ($125–400, depending on the size of the animal) at utahpetaquamation.com.

Read more from our past Pet Issues here:
Everyone Wins: Canines With a Cause
Proper Paws: Training Owners to Train Their Dogs