Joe Francis grew up in a household full of German Shepherds, so he’s always had a soft spot for the long-haired working dogs.
Sasha was the first dog he got as a grown-up.
“She was funny, she loved dancing, she loved interacting, she would play with other dogs, she was well socialised,” Joe told Hack.
Joe was a submarine officer in the Navy for nearly 20 years before he entered politics. He spent long chunks of time at sea.
He reckons he and Sasha had a connection that spanned the distances and time spent apart.
“When I was away and something happened to Sasha – she got sick once – or something happened to me, when we made contact when I was back on shore, believe it or not I was always right,” he said.
“It’s skin crawling stuff. There’s something that I don’t believe science has yet understood about instinct over long-distances between pets and their owners.”
‘You just lay on the floor and say goodbye’
Sasha was 10 when she got sick.
“It happened pretty quickly. She didn’t eat her dinner one night and I took her to the vet. Within three hours I had to put her to sleep. She had a tumour on her spleen and she was bleeding internally,” Joe said.
The vet asked Joe if he wanted to keep a copy of her paw prints, and Joe said yes. He knew he wanted to have some sort of memorial for Sasha, but he hadn’t decided what as yet.
By this stage, he was the Liberal Party’s member for Jandakot in the WA government.
Then, the idea of getting her ashes tattooed on his body came to him. He had other tatts from his time in the Navy, and he’s always admired it as an artform.
“You can do all sorts of things with ashes. You can have them turned into stone, you can have them in pendants around your neck. I decided to get her ashes tattooed over my heart in the shape of her paw prints,” Joe said.
Finding a professional tattooist who’d do it was the hard part.
“As a rule of thumb, they’ll be reluctant to put a foreign body into your skin. You’ll have to sign a waiver and all of those kinds of things. Not many people will do it.”
Luckily, he had a mate who was a tattoo artist who agreed to take on the project.
He ground down the ashes to the consistency of talcum powder, stained it black and used it as ink. The tattooist then copied Sasha’s paw prints onto Joe’s chest.
“If I wear medals with my military uniform, it’s where they would go, basically over the left side of your heart,” he said.
How did his family take it? Well….
“I just got it done and told them about it later,” he laughed.
‘My colleagues thought I was a fruit loop’
Eventually, news of Joe’s unusual tatt went public.
“Most of my colleagues in the Liberal Party, let alone the Parliament, thought I was a bit of a fruit loop for doing it,” he said.
But he had people contacting him to find out how THEY could get it done.
“I even had people ring my parliamentary office and say, my husband passed away, can I get his ashes tattooed on my body,” Joe said.
“Human on human tattooing I guess I found to be a bit weird. But other people probably think me having my late dog’s ashes stuck under my skin is a bit weird too.”
He admits that it’s not the most conventional way of remembering a dead animal. But Joe reckons it’s the start of a movement.
“I think tattooing for memorial purposes is growing,” he said. “It’s one of those areas where, unless you’ve really loved and appreciated and formed a bond and affection with a pet, I guess you don’t really understand it.”
Joe’s got other pets, including a recent addition to his family – nine-and-a-half week old puppy, Hunter.
He’s not ruling out doing the same thing for them.
“By the time I’m an old man, I may be covered in paw prints from my chest down to my toes.”