When your cat dies, you miss him. You mourn. You sweep up all the fur he shed and throw it away.
Unless you’re Theresa Furrer.
If you’re Furrer, you take the fur and make a three-to-six inch memorial with an uncanny resemblance and beady, unblinking eyes.
Furrer’s business, Nine Lives Twine, was one of the vendors at POP Cats 2017, a new convention for cat lovers at the Miami Airport Convention Center last October. Nine Lives Twine offers handmade yarn, wall art and memorials created from pet hair.
Furrer’s specialty? Creating custom goods from dead pets.
A personal loss led Furrer to her calling. When her cat died in 2012, desperate to keep its memory alive, Theresa Furrer resorted to taxidermy.
“Her name was Cleo,” Furrer said. “She was a Devon Rex cat so she had that kinky fur.”
Furrer waited an unpleasant nine months for a taxidermist to return the cat’s preserved body. (Today Cleo sits on display in Furrer’s Pittsburgh home, kept company by Furrer’s live pets: a 17-year-old cat and two hairless cats.)
“While I’m glad I got it done, and I am happy that I have her here and displayed, the experience was stressful,” she said. “When I finally got her back, I was like ‘God, I’m so over this.’ I began to ask myself could there be another way to have a real piece of your pet that isn’t as extreme as taxidermy.”
She bought a spinning wheel and taught herself to spin yarn, using cotton at first.
The move to natural animal fibers came next. She knew the idea might make others uneasy when she approached pet groomers.
“I always prefaced it with ‘Don’t think I’m crazy,’ ” Furrer said.
But they didn’t. In fact, Furrer said the groomers had clients interested in services specifically for their pets’ fur. That’s when Furrer knew she had a working business model.
Five years later, Furrer has three spinning wheels — one in her garden, another on a porch and a third in her studio surrounded by photos of pets. She has transformed their fur into trinkets.
Her most popular item is a catnip mouse created from cat fur. But Furrer also makes clothing, stuffed animals and jewelry from old pet hair. Her most bizarre creation are “meowmorials,” or sculptures resembling deceased pets. For those, Furrer collects biological information and asks clients to store their pets’ fur after a “gentle brushing… until the time arrives.”
She also discovered a way to incorporate pets’ ashes at the request of her customers – she puts them at the center of her creations.
Furrer says she gets something out of pleasing her customers, too.
“I always ask for a photo of the pet if it’s passed away because I like to have it with me. I’ve collected so many stories,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
And she doesn’t care if people think she’s creepy.
“To each his own,” Furrer said. “That really doesn’t faze me whatsoever. For every 10 people that are grossed out or don’t get it, there’s one person who gets it and shares how much it means to them.”
Furrer stays busy with online orders and projects from cat conventions. At POP Cats 2017, which brings her to Miami for the first time.
Convention co-founder Johana Flores said she’s happy to have Furrer on board.
“Once she talks to the guests, you see that people do miss their pets,” Flores said. “Every single exhibitor, they all have a story behind them.”
Furrer’s story is still evolving. Nine Lives Twine has forced her to ponder how she’ll honor her memories – which include those two hairless cats.
“I do think about it a lot, but it’s clearly not going to be yarn,” she said. “One thing I have thought about doing is having their ashes mixed into ink for portrait tattoos.”
Furrer will demonstrate her fur-spinning process at POP Cats 2017 on Saturday. The convention begins at 11 a.m.
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