September 02, 1996 12:00 PM

DOGS, CATS AND HAMSTERS ARE WONDERFUL animals, but they have one defect: You can’t sit on them. Or, rather, you shouldn’t. One of you will probably regret it. Perhaps both of you.

On the other hand, consider the noble cow. Now there’s an animal! Big and warm, with plenty of room for you and a friend to stretch out. And if you’re using a Cowch, instead of an actual, breathing, lowing animal, it won’t even complain.

Cowches—enormous pillows that look like cows—are the creation of Helga Tacreiter, 44, clearly a leader in the Art Mooveau movement. Her bovine divans come in three sizes, ranging in price from $200 to $500. And her profits help support Tacreiter’s farm in Shiloh, N.J., where she provides a home for 14 cows saved from hamburger heaven.

A vegetarian for more than 20 years, Tacreiter developed a thing for cows while working on a New Jersey dairy farm in 1975. “I immediately fell in love,” she says. “They had such great personalities.” Alas, she quickly learned what happens to cows when they stop producing milk—they become steaks. “My job was to separate babies from mothers,” she says. “I would kiss the calves goodbye as I loaded them onto the slaughter truck.”

Tacreiter began to realize that, given her feelings about cows, she was unsuited to the darker side of farm life. In 1993 she and her boyfriend, airplane mechanic Walt Hankinson, 51, bought 80 acres and set up their sanctuary, starting with six calves orphaned during a storm.

Looking for a way to subsidize her endeavor, Tacreiter hit on Cowches. Armed with a few bolts of teddy-bear cloth and using Harvey, a Black Angus, as her model, she pinned together her first effort. “For five hours,” she says, “Harvey stood perfectly still until he was enveloped in a fake-fur cow suit.”

Sofa, so good. Since 1990, Tacreiter has sold almost 400 Cowches, through special orders. There’s a message in her marketing. “If I can blur the distinction between food animals and companion animals,” she says, “then I’ve made a difference. That’s the only way people will become vegetarians.”

Or at least Cowch potatoes.

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