Many stray dogs are warmer this winter thanks to shelter volunteer Danielle Kleinrichert, and dog lover and seamstress Rachel Schul.
They have formed Fleeces for Fido, an organization whose mission is to provide handmade fleece coats to all the dogs awaiting adoption at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control shelter.
Some short-haired dogs shiver even when the temperature is above freezing, but when the temps fall into the 20s or below as they recently did, even the heartiest of dogs get cold.
Last year, Schul designed and made a few fleece coats for her two rescue dogs, Roxy and Gizmo. Once they were appropriately outfitted, she started making coats for her neighbors’ dogs in her Lansdowne subdivision.
She later met Animal Control Officer and Humane Educator Julia Conner at a bite prevention workshop and asked if the shelter dogs could use some coats. Conner encouraged her, and Schul made a few and dropped them off.
“My husband said we couldn’t have any more dogs, so that’s why I started sewing coats,” Schul said.
When Kleinrichert noticed how easy the coats were to put on the dogs – the garment wraps around the dog and two strips of Velcro allow a custom fit – she reached out to Schul to make one for Oscar, Kleinrichert’s three-legged rescue lab mix.
“The problem with most coats is the armholes. They didn’t fit Oscar. It’s hard to get any dog into one of those coats, and it’s not safe to leave them unsupervised with the coats on,” Kleinrichert said.
“These coats are a godsend. They are easy to get on, the dogs seem to enjoy them, and they keep them warm.”
Last winter Schul sewed 100 coats with a little help from some friends. This year she has refined and simplified the patterns from six sizes to three, and enlisted more folks to help cut and sew the brightly colored fleece.
The group has donated 170 of their 300-coat goal this season. The two friends are also finding creative ways to further their cause.
Kleinrichert threw a fleece party for her neighbors last fall when she collected over $900 – and yards of fleece.
Quilt Patch Fabrics in Matthews donated space for a cutting party where Schul and some girlfriends cut out 44 dog coats and sorted the pieces into bags for others to take home and sew. They’ve recently held two cutting parties at Hancock Fabrics in Matthews where they successfully cut and bagged 80 coats that are now ready to stitch.
Each coat takes about 45 minutes to create and consists of two large pieces of fleece, two lined fleece straps, and two pieces of Velcro. It takes one yard of patterned fleece and one yard of solid fleece to make three large or six small coats.
“Sewing the coats is actually relaxing. If you sew at all, it’s mindless sewing compared to what you’ve probably done before,” Schul said.
Shelter volunteers put the coats on the animals when the weather warrants. The coats are washed at the shelter and usually last for the entire winter.
Once a dog is adopted, their coat is turned back in to provide comfort for another dog. And being chosen for adoption is the goal.
“It’s always a scary prospect for folks to come to the shelter, but there’s no better place to find the perfect dog,” Kleinrichert said.
“These coats are disarming. When people come in and see the dogs cared for on this level and dressed in these quirky colors, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Animal Care and Control’s communication specialist Melissa Knicely said the coats definitely help with adoptions.
“If you put a dog in a Panther’s coat, suddenly he’s a Panther’s fan and he will get adopted quickly,” Knicely said. “The coats help give the dogs personality and provide an extra layer of coziness when the weather is cold.”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to help?
Checks for coat supplies may be made out to the City of Charlotte and mailed to CMPD Animal Care and Control, 8315 Byrum Drive, Charlotte, 28217.
Mark “Fleeces for Fido” on the memo line. Fleece donations also can be dropped off there, but Schul requests the fleece be in one yard cuts, no fleece blankets please. If you would like to help sew coats, email email@example.com or call Melissa Knicely at 704-336-3627.