Pet owners are nothing if not passionate about their animal companions, so it makes perfect sense to honor the bond with these critters with indelible ink.
Whether it’s a tribute to a fuzzball who’s shuffled off this mortal coil, a reminder of unconditional love, something symbolic or just something cool to look at, pet tattoos almost always have a great story behind them. Here are some examples (including a story from a certain pet parent cat owners worldwide will recognize!):
Pet parent name: Lin Randolph, New York City
Pet tattoo: Leonard Pip Rothstein, aka “Lenny the Pug,” Randolph’s black, three-legged pug. The tattoo is on her left upper outer thigh and is five inches tall and six inches wide.
The story: I had been adding new ink in recent years, and the idea of a portrait of my pug, Lenny, was both endearing and terrifying. What about when he passed away? Would it be a heartbreaking reminder of our bond?
After much contemplation, I loaned Andy, my tattoo artist, a book of photos from a professional photo shoot so he could better ‘understand’ Lenny. Andy chose a photo that both allowed Lenny’s personality to shine through and would translate well in ink. Two sessions later, the little pug’s black and grey likeness was a permanent part of me, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos: Not particularly pet tattoos, but I am the organizer of the NYC Pug Meetup Group and we are all enthusiastic about our fur kids.
Artist and studio: Andy Bautista at Sacred Tattoo NYC, 2013.
Pet parent name: Cristan, Long Island, New York
Pet tattoo: Bubba, a Bullmastiff, who passed away in June 2014. The tattoo is on his left thigh and was completed during three sessions in September, October and December 2014.
The story: I initially wanted a full arm sleeve of pets that have passed on, but many of my dogs are or were black, and I thought that would be a boring tattoo. The black silhouettes near the top of the tattoo represent other dogs while the main focus is Bubba, the special needs Bullmastiff. He had long hair, entropic eyes, cryptorchidism, hip dysplasia and at one point he tore his ACL. His birthday was the day after mine.
Do you have other tattoos? This was my 10th tattoo and one of the largest.
Artist: Edwin Oquendo
Pet parent name: Melanie Scott, Brooklyn, New York
Pet tattoos: I have two pet tattoos. One is the size of a silver dollar on the side of my knee and one is my entire upper thigh. I got both tattoos in 2015.
The story: I am heavily tattooed, but both pieces are two of my favorites. One for my own dog and one of a good friend’s dog.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? I love showing people my dog portraits and finding dogs that look like the ones I have on my body! Tattoos are the best form of self-expression, and I am expressing my love for our furry friends.
Artists and studio: Orrin Hurley and Trudie Kaiser. Both tattoo out of Graceland Hair & Tattoos in Brooklyn.
Pet parent name: Steph Caldwell, Jersey City, New Jersey
Pet tattoo: Bacon Little, a French Bulldog, on my inner right arm, about the size of a fist.
The story: I have tattoos already, and I knew I wanted something to represent Bacon. I hadn’t planned to get a portrait, but while looking at Instagram, I saw an artist whose portraits were amazing, and he happened to be located in NYC, so I went for a consult. He also has a Frenchie called Mable, so it was a perfect fit.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? I have tattoos already, and it wasn’t written in stone that I would get a tattoo of my pet, but he has a great face (everyone says so!), so it seemed reasonable for me to capture it in a medium I already enjoy.
Pet parent name: Kevin Wilson, New York City
Pet tattoos: I have two tattoos of my pug, Lennon, one on my hand done by Adrian Dominic and one on my leg done by Jon Mesa.
The story: My pup is my life. I feel like if it weren’t for him and my wife, my life wouldn’t be the same. The unconditional love that you get from a pet far surpasses the love anyone else could give you. I felt the best way to honor my little man was to get him tattooed on me, and not once, but twice! The one done by Jon Mesa is my little dapper pug. We used a photo of Lennon from the 4th of July that our friend Ariella took of him and had Jon make him up like a little turn of the century pup since he acts like an old soul.
The one on my hand done by Adrian Dominic is my steam pug portrait of Lennon. There’s really no reason behind him dressed like a steam pug. I just thought it was cute and worked well on my hand.
Do you have other tattoos? I’m covered in tattoos, so these were not my first. I’m actually removing a ton of old work now and planning for more tattoos. Maybe another pug tattoo…
Pet parent name: Michael Rougeau, Los Angeles
Pet tattoo: Ricky the dog covering my right calf, which I got in 2012.
The story: When I graduated in 2011, I wanted a dog, but I didn’t want a small dog like I had had growing up. However, a friend found Ricky running around on the street and I took a gamble and adopted him. I remained self-conscious about having a small dog until he started catching rats and mice around the house. I was so proud of him I had to commemorate it, and I went to the artist with this thought. He’s the best dog (don’t tell my other dog I said that).
Do you have other tattoos? I do have many other tattoos. This was my third or fourth tattoo, and my largest at the time. I was eager to get more after the first couple, and was inspired by Ricky’s heroic deeds.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? I wouldn’t call it a community — so many people have ink these days that it doesn’t even get brought up that much in casual conversation. However, if I notice someone else has a pet tattoo as well we will absolutely trade stories.
Pet parent name: Niki Polyocan, Brooklyn, New York
Pet tattoo: My cat, Elizabeth, on my upper right arm, in 2010.
The story: Elizabeth passed away in 2007, and I wanted to honor her with a tattoo that featured her likeness in a very charming way, with a sense of humor. As reference we looked at Day of the Dead and Guadalupe imagery, as I have always been a fan of Mexican folk art. We wanted to incorporate that celebratory feeling and those colors into the tattoo.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? Absolutely! But more than that, I feel a sense of community with other tattoo collectors.
Artist and studio: John Reardon at Greenpoint Tattoo
Pet parent name: Amanda Chatel, New York City
Pet tattoo: I have my dog’s name, Hubbell, on the inside of my upper arm. I got it in 2005.
The story: Hubbell came into my life during a tumultuous period of depression and substance abuse. He was my savior in more than one way, and helped me get it together. Because of that, I wanted to tattoo his name on me so I’d always have a reminder that when things go to hell, there is still beauty in the world, and that beauty is him. I have his name on the inside of my arm so I can easily look at it whenever I want and feel okay about things.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? Although I do know a few other people who have either the name or image of their pet somewhere on their body, I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m part of a community. We’re just a bunch of people who love our pets more than anyone else in our lives and wanted to permanently ink that love on our bodies.
Pet parent name: Jackson Galaxy, Los Angeles
Pet tattoo:I only have one tattoo that is of one of my own cats. It’s on the inside of my right bicep, and it’s a tattoo of Velouria. She and the tattoo have aged nicely; Velouria is now 24 years old. Both on my left and right bicep are what I call “fish-cats.” They’re koi fish with cat heads, and one of the fish-cats has Velouria’s head.
Other than that, my tattoos are mostly all images of cats that have been pulled from 19th century Japanese woodcarvings. Japanese artists were very passionate about cats, and there’s no other inspiration that I’ve seen in the history of art that has deified cats and captured their character so well.
The story: Koi fish in Japanese art symbolize a person’s aspiration to improve himself, and the ability to persevere through difficult situations. So, I wanted to memorialize my struggle and represent how important cats were in helping me through difficult times by getting the two fish-cat tattoos.
Do you have other tattoos? I have many tattoos, many of which I got before the fish-cat tattoo featuring Velouria. Most of my tattoos are cat themed, including the very first one I got in 1987. That one is a little pink panther that I have on my left bicep.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? Yes, we call them “cattoos,” and when my visibility in the public eye began to rise, so did the tweets of people’s cattoos. In fact, Kate Benjamin, my co-author on “Catify to Satisfy” and “Catification,” has a website dedicated to cattoos. Cattoos showcase how deep the relationship between humans and their animal companions can be.
Artist and studio: Lance Talon or BoulderInk in Boulder, Colorado.
Pet parent name: Casey Goldsmith of New Hope, Pennsylvania
Pet tattoo: My dog, Poi, aka Poiboy. My family adopted him from the Kauai Humane Society in 2003. This piece was tattooed on my inner left calf, is almost true to life-size and started in 2006. A banner and flowers were added during a later session.
The story: Scrolling through tattoo galleries on BMEZine.com years ago led me to Joy Rumore. I saw a cat portrait she had done, and without giving it a second thought I contacted her immediately. She worked with me over email until I traveled up to New York City a few months later to meet her and get it inked. I can’t see myself ever being without a dog, as I have had one since I was five. Now I don’t go anywhere without this one!
Do you have other tattoos? I have so many at this point I tend to lose count, but this was one of my first, and the first one out of shorts range, so I knew it had to be something I could survive showing my parents since they were not too hip to them yet. I have had a dog almost my entire life, so this was my tribute to that. Thankfully, my parents have come so far around to my ink that they ask me to show this one off in particular to their friends all the time.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? Yes, and it is moving being able to engage in conversation with people I might never have. If it weren’t for having such a great conversation starter right above my ankle I would have missed out on meeting some real nice folks during my travels. They can’t get enough of Poi!
Artist and studio: Joy Rumore at [Trinity Tattoo Collective](Trinity Tattoo Collective)
Pet parent name: Christine Sizemore, Meridian, Idaho
Pet tattoo: My ferret, Sophie. The tattoo is roughly nine inches in height and covers most of the side of my arm. I got it in 2012.
The story: My daughter and I like to look at the baby chicks at a local farm store every spring. One year she begged me for chicks, and I said jokingly that I’d rather get a ferret. I always thought they were like rats and would smell. My daughter latched onto that comment and somehow, that day we had a ferret. If I’d ever had another daughter, I would have named her Sophie, so that’s what I named this tiny fuzzball. We are a bonded pair, so I decided my first large piece was going to be an ode to her.
Do you experience being part of a community of people with pet tattoos? Now, yes — it’s unique and interesting for us to honor our pets in different ways, and I had no idea until I got one how many other people did this as well. There are some seriously creative people out there! For me, originally, it was just something that I wanted to do because this tiny, bossypants, one-pound-soaking-wet ferret owns my heart. I have five now because of her!
Artist: Mike Munster
By: Jenni Miller