Stuffed animals are safe comfort; loving real pets is more complicated.

Back in the 1990s, I made myself a stuffed kitten. My husband at the time was a neat-nick. He didn’t like the mess that went with animals, so making Alessandro was my solution to wanting one. While my toy made me feel better, he couldn’t make me as happy as a real pet.

Alessandro, my handmade kitten

Of course, there were a lot of advantages to a stuffed toy, the biggest one being that my husband couldn’t complain. I didn’t have to worry about feeding Alessandro or cleaning a litter box. There were no vet bills. He made no noise and didn’t destroy carpets and curtains. He didn’t even shed.

Best of all, he would never run away, get hit by a car, or die.

But he was also still and cold. He never purred, or curled up on my lap, or butted my leg with his head to get my attention. I could love him, but he couldn’t love me. He was comforting at first, but I eventually wanted something more.

When a co-worker told me about a pair of kittens that needed a home, I talked my husband into letting me adopt them. By promising to do all the work myself, I got him to agree.

Mycroft and Sherlock

Taken from their mother at an early age, Sherlock and Mycroft immediately decided I was their new mom. They followed me around like devoted dogs, something the rescued cats of my childhood never did. They were the friendliest cats I’d ever met, and they were excellent company.

When I got my divorce, they went with me. They slept on my bed, kept mice out of my house, and made me laugh with their antics. And then, the year they turned ten, they both died from cancer, one in October, the other in April. Losing them was heart-breaking.

While Alessandro is still with me, the kind of comfort he provides is low level and steady. Sherlock and Mycroft were everything he is not: living, breathing, warm, loving. Life with them was full of ups and downs which were higher and lower than the emotions I could feel for a toy.

My living cats required care, made messes, and left a hole in my life when they died. But they also filled my heart with joy and love. Loving Alessandro is safe, but loving Sherlock and Mycroft was satisfying.

Have you loved and lost a pet?

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