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Norwich Bulletin - 5/25/2008

Remembering That Special Pet

Shortly before my fiftieth birthday, I began searching for ways that would one day be a memorial to Merlot, my first Abyssinian, and my very special boy. My husband and I have commissioned a painting of him and professional photographs, and yet, I still felt something was missing. When my daughter suggested a tattoo, I immediately dismissed the idea, but then starting reconsidering…

The world is changing, especially views on the tattoo industry. They no longer have people who just take a stencil and put it on a sailor's arm. Now, there are truly artists who offer high quality custom work. And there is no doubt that a tattoo will last forever, or at least as long as you do!

And so my appreciation and love of tattoos began with a custom designed tattoo of Merlot on my arm. In the past ten months, I have suffered some great losses, including our Helping Paws spokescat, Milo. I needed to find a memorial for these cats and so I went looking for a local tattoo artist, with the emphasis on the word artist. And I found him, right here in Norwich on Sherman Street!

Thirty-two year old Adam Jason Hillyer, owner of Eagle's Nest Tattoos, was always fascinated by tattoos, and got his first one when he was thirteen years old. He became an apprentice and learned the basics of the trade, much the way a carpenter learns. At nineteen he performed his first solo tattoo.

A true artist by nature, Adam has been drawing his entire life, winning his first art award in first grade and being the resident artist for his high school. The tattoo industry has truly come a long way since the days of skulls and sailors, and we now have the option of going to high quality artists offering original designs to be transferred to our bodies. Many professionals now sport unusual tattoos - and many of them involve their pets.

Adam remembers the first animal portrait he ever did. About twelve years ago, a woman came in and wanted a tattoo of her cat on her arm. Adam took the photo and went to work. Three hours later, the woman had a memory that she would carry close to her forever.

Since then, there have been many other tattoos involving specific animals. I saw incredible portraits of dogs that Adam has done for some of his customers. Each one had a special something that brought out the individuality of the dog. The German Shephard looked so lifelike and the Dachshund had the sweetest, most soulful eyes, and the Bulldogs, well, they looked like Bulldogs!

Many of the people who came in for these intricate portraits were first timers that ended up being pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as bad as they were led to believe it would be; and most of them have been back for more! There are so many women (and some men) that look at my tattoos and remark on how beautiful they are and how brave I am and how they never could do it themselves.

I am quick to point out if they have given birth to a baby or if they have ever gotten a root canal, a tattoo is a piece of cake compared to either of those two events! You can trust me on that since I have had all three.

When I stopped in to Adam's shop to discuss what I would like him to do, it was on his day off. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the shop was even when he wasn't expecting customers. We talked a little about safety, and Adam explained that tattoo artists are required to be registered with the Uncas Health District and follow strict guidelines to insure the health and safety of their customers.

I asked Adam how he felt when he completed a tattoo and his answer was very sincere and heartfelt. He said that it is the highest compliment when he sees the admiration from a customer, especially for a tattoo that one day will be a memorial piece, as it is so special and meaningful to the customer. He realizes that these custom designed tattoos are a celebration of a pet's life and it is a gratifying experience to be an intricate part of making it all possible.

It is great that tattoos are no longer taboo in our society. Everyone from Social Workers to Doctors can now express their own individuality with this new (old) art. Young and old are experiencing their first tattoos.

Remember, custom made pet tattoos are not just about dogs and cats. Adam has done people's pet snakes, iguana's and a ferret that got him published in the Ferret Magazine. You can see much of Adam's art on his website, or give him a call at 889-4942 to make arrangements to stop in and see some of his work.

As you think about what is right for you, remember that price depends on size and detail of the portrait. For a custom tattoo, expect to pay $150 and up. Adam and I came up with the perfect memorial for Milo and friends. A fairy cat - one that will represent the spirit of all those that have left us.

Since tomorrow is Memorial Day, it was perfect timing for me to get this done. Oh, and you should all know one more thing. Tattoos truly are like potato chips. You will not be satisfied with just one.

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