A Portland Man’s Taxidermied Dog Helped Get Him Through a Breakup. Now, They’re Helping People Process Grief.

Even in repose, Phoebe, Byers’ stuffed brown-and-white Jack Russell terrier, is pretty cute.

Mitch Byers gets mixed reactions when he posts pictures of himself and his dog on dating apps. That’s probably because the dog is dead.

Even in repose, Phoebe, Byers’ stuffed brown-and-white Jack Russell terrier, is pretty cute. Regardless, he refuses to use her as a pickup line.

“I’ll tip-toe in and out, but I try to draw the line of trying not to have my taxidermied dog help me get laid,” he says. “I try to draw the line of respect.”

Byers, 29, has had Phoebe for the past 10 years. For more than half that time, Phoebe has been deceased.

Back in 2013, Byers’ mother sent the departed family pet to a taxidermist in Colorado. When the body returned to Byers’ family home in Portland, his first reaction was to laugh. But soon after, following a particularly gnarly breakup, the dog became Byers’ “copilot,” helping him process grief along life’s tumultuous roads.

She’s started to do the same for other people.

Byers first gained notoriety when he took Phoebe on a road trip with him in summer 2017. She was propped up in the front seat—like most dogs are when riding in cars—and Byers, conscious of the heat, posted a note on the car window: “Don’t worry, the dog is already dead. She’s taxidermied. Please don’t break my window.” The photo was posted to Reddit and eventually made it to the site’s front page.

What started as a joke has now gained a cult following through Instagram. It’s also grown to encompass deeper meaning for Byers, who plans to keep Phoebe forever.

He considers her preserved frame to be a “conversation starter about death in family or death in family pets,” Byers says. “It’s a weird sort of thing to go through, and nobody talks about it really.”

In the last few years, Byers says he’s grown closer to Phoebe than he did even when she was alive. Lately, he’s taken her with him to parks around Portland, including Irving, Peninsula and the Bluffs.

On a recent trip, a woman approached him and accused him of “trying super-hard to be a weird Portlander.”

“And I just looked at her,” Byers says, “like, dude, I’m just fucking trying to sit in the sun and enjoy a beer.” 

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