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Taxidermy Law: Is It Legal to Stuff Your Pet?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on January 14, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Odds are, when you see a mounted animal, the first thing you think of isn't, "Do you have a permit for that?" But perhaps it should be. Taxidermy requires both a federal and state license, and sometimes even special permits, such as the case with migratory birds. Who knew?! So before you decide to stuff your recently deceased pet so that your toddler child doesn't have an emotional breakdown, think twice and consider these laws.

Boxed Birds Are a Challenge

Migratory birds pose the biggest legal challenge for taxidermists. They need a federal permit to mount all migratory birds that belonged to other people. There's a law that prohibits people from possessing migratory birds without a permit, and that includes both dead and live birds. Here's an interesting twist on that law: because you need a permit to possess the dead migratory bird, you can't even throw the stuffed bird out if the customer never comes to pick it up because the garbage service doesn't have one of those permits. If you do discard of it through the garbage, you will be hit with a federal felony. The federal government expects you to either mount it proudly for the rest of your life, or find it another home.

In addition, if the migratory bird is a non-game bird, then then customer that sent the bird to the taxidermist must have a federal permit authorizing the lawful possession of that bird. Keep in mind that migratory game birds are only allowed to be mounted for personal or display use only. Selling one, once mounted, results in a federal felony, except for some captive-bred birds. Of course, it is totally fine to stuff your captive-bred bird. Just make sure you can prove that you raised it as a pet.

Stuffed Mammals -- Did It Come With Papers?

But what about the stuffed stuff we normally see, like bears and bobcats. Are those legal? The answer is, it depends. Although a federal permit is not required to mount lawfully acquired mammals, taxidermists are responsible for making sure that the customer had the proper hunting tags, animal permits, or other documents to determine that the animal they're handling was lawfully acquired. Just as it's a crime to be in possession of stolen property, so to is it a crime to be in possession of unlawfully obtained animal carcasses. Add to that, it is unlawful to transport, ship, or receive an unlawful carcass.

As you can imagine, crimes can really start to mount up for a taxidermist, no pun intended. Violations of these laws vary, but can reach up to $500,000 and two years in jail, depending on the crime, the person or group committing the crime, and the number and frequency of the criminal violations. State laws and permits are also requiring, making the burden to stuff something illegally obtained almost insurmountable. So before you go stuffing that funky road kill you found as a joke to your boss, you may want to consider buying a kitschy coffee cup instead.

What About Fido?

So what about this new craze of people stuffing their own pets, even going so far as to have the body pliable, like a stuffed animal. Is this legal? So long as the pet was legally obtained and doesn't fall into any of the above categories, yes it is legal to stuff your pet. Note to taxidermists out there -- be careful stuffing pets belonging to celebrities, like Chris Brown!

You may, however, have a hard time finding a taxidermist that will mount your pet. As one professional so aptly put it when he was asked to stuff someone's pet fox, a wild animal is a stranger, but a pet is familiar. According to one expert taxidermist, "When it was done, I called the customer and explained, 'It's not going to look the same.' Then he walked in the door and said, 'That's not my fox.' It just made me mad. He walked out of my shop totally hating me. I will never touch a pet again."

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