Pet memories saved in handmade jewelry by Washington County woman
When Dixie, the 7-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix died last year, her owners, Regina Russo and her son, David Christy, 27, were devastated.
“My son bought Dixie as he left for college, and he kind of gifted her to me. She was kind of our dog,” says Russo, 48, of Sarver, Butler County.
Dixie was cremated after her death in 2016.
Russo later met Jenny Butterfield, a McMurray, Washington County, jeweler at a networking event, she says.
“She was talking about custom jewelry and creating keepsakes for pet owners. … I said I would like to have a bracelet made to remember Dixie with and something for my son,” Russo says.
Butterfield, a classically trained silversmith and goldsmith, specializes in turning sentimental and non-traditional objects into jewelry.
Recognizing people's strong affection for their pets, and a tendency to hang onto items like collars or toys, she turns those and other items into wearable memorials.
She also has written about her experience in the book “Over the Rainbow Bridge,” published through Plug & Play Publishing in Pittsburgh. The book shares five clients' stories about their grieving process and the works of art they created with Butterfield to honor the lives they shared with their pets.
Owner of Jenny Butterfield Designs LLC, she challenges herself to incorporate everything from dog fur to cremains, pet blankets to puppy teeth, into pieces of custom jewelry.
“I have always loved jewelry,” says Butterfield, 34.
Holder of a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Edinboro State University, focusing on jewelry design and metalsmithing, she started making jewelry as a hobby.
She worked for several Pittsburgh area jewelers before launching her own, home-based business five years ago.
“I have both a strong design background and technical background,” she says.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of American households now own a pet, accounting for 84.6 million pet-owning households.
Count Butterfield among them.
The owner of a now 30-year-old horse, Promise, her side career in creating pet memorial jewelry began about seven years ago when she considered what to do with some leftover stirrup leather.
“Instead of throwing it out, I made myself a bracelet. I wore it to a couple of networking events and people started approaching me,” she says.
Two years ago, her family's 18-year-old bichon frise, Chrissy, whom they raised from a puppy, died.
Butterfield crafted a ring for herself and a necklace for her mother from collars Chrissy had worn.
“The love we have for our animals is very much unconditional. People want to find a way to keep that love present, to keep that animal in their lives,” Butterfield says.
Her pet jewelry pieces typically range from $50 to $300.
She thinks the handmade aspect holds great appeal for grieving “pet parents.”
“It's all about the emotional commitment, the sentimentality involved. Things people bring me are monetarily not worth very much. But emotionally, they are extremely valuable,” she says.
Butterfield enjoys creating special occasion pieces for clients' weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.
The pet jewelry, though, has become especially important as she realizes how touched people are by her work. “This is where my heart is,” she says.
Russo says Butterfield met with her and asked about Dixie — her favorite toys and what she liked to do.
Dixie was supposed to be trained to hunt squirrels with her son, Russo says.
“She had a little toy squirrel to try and train her. But when she went into the woods to chase real squirrels, she just went after sticks. We joked that she had a ‘stick addiction,' ” Russo says.
Butterfield made a bracelet for Russo with beads in Dixie's rust color. She also made a custom stick charm, added a piece of the squirrel toy's fur to another charm and a tiny footprint charm containing some of Dixie's cremains.
Dixie's blue license tag also dangles from the bracelet.
For her son, Butterfield used an empty shotgun shell and placed some of Dixie's cremains inside a small piece of clear tubing, added a piece of the dog toy fur and placed it on a leather lanyard. Dixie's name is engraved in the brass end of the shell.
“It's awesome. He keeps it hanging in his room,” Russo says.
“I wear (the bracelet) quite often. I love it. I was so lost without my dog. I consider it priceless,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.