Even before I realized that animal companions kept me from feeling lonely, I looked to them for comfort. At a time in my life when I wasn’t ready to commit to taking care of a pet, I found a way to have the same comfort without all the work. I learned that stuffed animals aren’t just for kids.
I’ve always been surrounded by animals. I grew up in a house full of dogs and cats, birds and gerbils. Even in college, I was lucky enough to spend time with an African gray parrot, and we had a kitten the year I lived off campus. After graduation, I got more birds.
Then we moved to Germany. My husband and I were young and therefore poor, so I didn’t even think about trying to move my birds across the Atlantic. I was without pets for two years, then returned to America where the hankering for an animal companion came back again.
We were living in an apartment and while I wanted a pet, I wasn’t quite ready to commit to one. I told myself that I didn’t want the responsiblity of caring for an animal, that I liked the freedom of not having to find a pet sitter whenever I took a trip.
But the real source of my uncertainty was the state of my marriage. I wasn’t happy and was trying to figure out what to do. I knew my husband wouldn’t want the responsiblities or the mess that went with an animal in the house. So instead of getting a live pet, I made myself a kitten out of fabric.
While he isn’t very realistic visually, this little cat has features that made him more real to me. One of the things I love about cats is how you can feel the edge of their jawbone when you rub under their chin. So when I made the armature for my kitten, I included a wire jaw I would be able to feel through the fabric.
I named my kitten Alessandro after Botticelli and I took him all around the house with me. He sat in my lap while I worked on the computer and on the counter when I cooked dinner. I enjoyed petting him. I didn’t realize at the time that he was keeping me company as I struggled to understand what was happening to my marriage.
He didn’t purr and he wasn’t warm, but I didn’t have to worry about feeding him or cleaning a litter box. There were no vet bills. He would never run away, get hit by a car, or die. He was always there.
Alessandro taught me an important lesson, so important that I bought a stuffed horse to take to the hospital with me when I went in for surgery in 2011. I had never had an operation before and Shasta gave me something to hold on to throughout the process.
I suppose I looked silly, a woman in her 40s hugging a stuffed toy, but I didn’t care. The comfort I’ve gotten from stuffed animals far outweighs any judgments someone else might throw at me.
Have you ever found comfort in a stuffed animal as an adult?