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For Farmingdale taxidermist, life is a zoo

Rich Dunlop's finished products at Fins to Feathers

Rich Dunlop's finished products at Fins to Feathers Taxidermy sometimes have the facial expression of an old pal rather than a ferocious beast. (March 1, 2011) Photo Credit: Paul C. Weingarten

To most people, it sounds like the beginning of a nightmare.

“I’ll go out East for the day and come home to find 10 dead deer were left for me,” said Rich Dunlop.

But for the owner of Farmingdale’s Fins to Feathers Taxidermy, it’s all in a day’s work.

“I just look at them and think, ‘I know what I’m doing tonight,’” he said with a smile.

As a taxidermist, Dunlop’s job involves taking apart animals that are brought to him and, after the cleaning and sanitizing processes, reassembling the tanned pelts using some artificial pieces (such as eyes) in a natural pose. The finished product is called a “mount.”

During more than 25 years in the business, Dunlop has mounted fish, birds and mammals of all sizes and types, including 20-foot great white sharks.

He’s handled African impala and baboons, the latter of which are displayed in his studio. There’s even a Sasquatch of Dunlop’s creation, which he lightheartedly uses to get attention at hunting shows.

Reptiles are also part of his repertoire.

“I recently had a giant 5-and-a-half foot iguana . . . and last week a guy dropped off a 12-foot boa constrictor,” he noted. “You never know who’s going to call.”

The job has even led to work in the entertainment industry. He’s lent mounted fish and other props to television shows, including “Law & Order.”

And Paramount Pictures called on Dunlop to supply pheasants for a hunting scene in the 2010 Harrison Ford film “Morning Glory,” then hired him as a technical adviser during filming.

“Not only did they pay well,” beamed Dunlop, a huge “Star Wars” fan, “but I got to hang out with Han Solo all day.”

Dunlop balances his work with a longtime devotion to wildlife rehabilitation, for which he is licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

At home with his wife and 13-year-old daughter, his army of pets includes two dogs, a hedgehog, a ferret, a pygmy possum, two sugar gliders and a hairless rat.

At any given time you may also find mallard ducks that his daughter hatches in an incubator and then releases into the wild, or an animal Dunlop is rehabilitating, such as a raccoon he once nursed back to health.

One of those family pets recently caused a bit of a commotion.

“A customer was looking at some of the mounts I had displayed and [he] suddenly screamed, ‘Something moved . . . it just ran away!’” remembered Dunlop.

“It turns out our ferret had gotten into the shop.”

Fins to Feathers Taxidermy is located at 131 Conklin St., Farmingdale. For more information call 516-847-0087 or visit alllongislandtaxidermy.com.

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