MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (theage.com.au) - The last time I remembered seeing the fur coats I was wearing the fluffy brown one.
I was eight years old, playing dress-up at my aunt's inner-city semi in the late 1970s, and utterly captivated by her immense wardrobe of treasures. She and a previous partner had owned nightclubs in Sydney so her evening wear glittered with sequins and beautiful fabrics.
It felt so sophisticated to be snuggled up in a fur, sitting on a paisley-covered lounge with Max the dachshund, with my aunt's jewellery box open on my lap.
My child's mind never gave the provenance of the four furs a thought. As I grew up I forgot about them, as my aunt must have done too when she moved to steamy south-east Queensland for nearly three decades.
But there the furs were again, in the wardrobe of the Sydney house my aunt lived in for the 10 years before she died, each coat protected by cloth covers she'd lovingly made.
It didn't feel right to throw the coats away, given my aunt had kept them all those years. I wasn't sure what reception they'd get at the local charity shop where many of her clothes went. I certainly didn't want to wear them, not least because my aunt was many sizes smaller than me. So I did what I did with many of her possessions when the decisions became overwhelming – I took them home to think about when I felt up to it.
Many months later and through the worst of the grief, I decided it was time to reclaim that section of my wardrobe. But what to do with four vintage and very pre-loved furs?
I sent photos of the coats to a fur retailer in Melbourne, one of the few I could find. "It looks like she really enjoyed wearing them," said the owner, "but we only take things in excellent or pristine condition." He suggested selling the furs cheaply on eBay or donating to a charity shop.
A friend with superior Google skills came to the rescue with a link to an Australian not-for-profit called Snuggle Coats, which gives fur coats to wildlife organisations to comfort animals in their care.
My Facebook message got an immediate response: "We would love to give your fur back to the animals!" wrote Snuggle Coats founder Lisa Brennan.
Brennan, who works in animal welfare, set up Snuggle Coats in 2014. She estimates more than 300 furs worth about $500,000 have been collected, pulled apart, and dispatched to wildlife carers across Australia.
Of my aunt's four coats, only the long-haired fox coat that I'd favoured as a child was deemed unsuitable for the rescue animals. "Most native carers don't like using fox," said Brennan, "so I will pass that onto a wildlife park to use as bedding."
Brennan had the lining and zips removed from the other three coats, then sent them back to Queensland where Judi Gray at Wildlife Queensland's Toowoomba Branch matched them to the animals in her care.
My aunt's creamy-coloured coat of kangaroo fur made a bed for Fifi the red-necked wallaby joey, who was orphaned after her mother was killed by domestic dogs.
"The furs work very well for animals in such situations as it is very calming for them," said Gray, "especially pouch-bound animals."
Chelsea the ringtail possum – hand-raised after being found on her own – was perfectly colour-coordinated with my aunt's brown-striped marmot coat. Pieces of that fur were used to line a bowl for Chelsea to mimic a possum's drey, or nest of leaves.
Snow the tawny frogmouth chick was found alone on the ground and thought to have blown out of his nest. He was given fur from my aunt's wolf coat, which made Snow look like he was sitting in a particularly fluffy nest.
The furs had crossed the NSW/Queensland border three times in their long journey back to the animals. My aunt had such a soft spot for all creatures, not just her beloved pets, that I told myself she'd be happy with the fate of her furs.
And besides, the furs looked much better on Fifi, Chelsea and Snow than they ever did on my aunt or me.
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Updated 10 days ago Article ID# 3995940