Louisville company ‘clones’ people’s pets as stuffed animals

Maggie Menderski, Courier Journal
Tuesday, October 12, 2021

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Hershey had been dead for more than 12 years when the small, plush likeness of her finally arrived at the Wardrip home.

As Amber Wardrip handed her husband the “cloned” boxer, it felt like giving him a piece of his beloved pet back. The purchase was goofy and emotional all at the same time, she told me, but it looked “exactly, exactly” like their dog.

And albeit a bit odd, the company that made Hershey and so many other clones like her started right here in Louisville.

When Wardrip gathered some old snapshots of Hershey and ordered her first Cuddle Clone online eight years ago, the Louisville woman had no idea the business originated through an entrepreneurship program at the University of Louisville. Business partners Adam Greene and Jennifer Williams don’t have a retail storefront, or really, any reason to advertise that their own little doggie heaven operates out of an office off Baxter Avenue in the Original Highlands.

But for more than a decade, the two U of L graduates have been growing their business while simultaneously helping families like the Wardrips grieve as Fidos and Fluffies cross over the proverbial Rainbow Bridge.

Their goal is simple. They custom make stuffed animals thatlook exactly like pets.

Wardrip’s family has three clones — Hershey, Mac a Boy and Shady. They live in a small corner in her basement. Shady just recently joined the bunch about two weeks ago, and Wardrip’s 19-year-old daughter has slept with the plush animal every night since its arrival. That recent loss has been hard on the family. Having the clones around reminds everyone in the house these animals were an important part of the family, Wardrip told me when we spoke on the phone.

Plenty of Greene’s customers feel that way.

Just outside his door at the Cuddle Clones office in the Highlands, Greene and Williams keep an impressive collection of “thank you” notes from customers, and they arrive for a variety of reasons.

It’s not always a death in the fur family that brings a customer to the Cuddle Clones website. Greene receives requests from military families, who want to send a clone of the family pet to someone serving overseas. Incoming college students often wrestle with leaving dogs and cats behind when they go away to school, and the clones can provide a small amount of comfort in their pet-less dorm rooms.

They also offer look-alike golf club covers and slippers for that special breed of pet owners that is wholeheartedly obsessed with their pet.

The orders that tug at Greene’s heartstrings most come from elderly people, who have to leave their homes and can’t take their furry companions with them. Rehoming a pet when grandma or grandpa moves into assisted living facilities is a painful, heartbreaking process. Bringing in a plush, almost identical placeholder can soften the blow.

But you can’t mass produce that almost identical appearance, and honing in on those difficult and detailed specifics is actually how the whole idea for Cuddle Clones started.

Williams first thought of Cuddle Clones in 2005, while taking a nap with her dog, Rufus. The Great Dane had unique markings, and she’d never really come across anything — let alone custom slippers — to buy in the doglover world that resembled him.

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