To The Guy Who Drove Over the Injured Opossum

Unlike with people, there is no emergency system in place for injured wild animals; no expectation that help will be on the way as soon as someone notices your accident and dire need for medical care. Unfortunately, unavoidable collisions with animals happen all the time, and tragically, many animals don’t die upon impact even when the trauma is incredibly severe and injuries are fatal. There is nothing they can do when it happens.

I’m also very aware that at any given time, drivers may have only a split second to make a judgement and react – avoid an animal if possible or risk injury and potential devastation to other drivers. I totally get that, which is why I was completely shocked that the driver of a truck that could have avoided an injured opossum in the road, or even just slowed down, chose not to do so and drove right over him.

Not five minutes after leaving a restaurant to head home, I saw an opossum sitting upright in the opposite lane of a two-lane rural road. Instantly my heart skipped a beat and my stomach dropped as I saw him try to slowly raise his head. I knew he had been hit. He tried standing up but couldn’t. The movement was so slow and labored. I could see him trying to lift a leg that was extensively injured, but he couldn’t move forward.

As soon as I could, I pulled over and back around with my hazards on. As I put the car in park, a large white truck had come up the same lane. As the opossum’s head slowly turned, the truck went barreling over him. The sight was such a shock I couldn’t even scream. The truck was tall enough to pass over his head, and he remained upright despite getting rocked from the rush of air that came from the vehicle going about 50 mph.

The only thing I had in my car was my old sweatshirt I wore to the wildlife center, so I grabbed it.

Two other passers-by saw what I was about to do so they kindly slowed down and drove by in the other lane that was completely clear. The opossum was still hunched over in an upright position but not moving. I gently placed the sweatshirt over him, carried him over to my car, and placed him in my trunk. Not a flinch, not a hiss.

It was after-hours at the wildlife center where I volunteer but fortunately I was able to get ahold of someone who lived close enough and was willing to come over and help. She gently lifted him out of my car, brought him inside, and started to pull the sweatshirt back for an exam. It didn’t take long for her to say she was going to take him outside. I knew what that meant. That meant that he wouldn’t have to suffer much longer. It meant that soon he’d fall asleep; the confusion and agony of what had happened would be over.

I suppose there could have been other reasons the truck drove right over him, but since I saw the whole thing, I can only assume he didn’t give a shit. If that was the case, he’s certainly not the only one.

#SomeBadassesAreMarsupials

I never gave thought to opossums one way or the other until I met Snitch, a disabled opossum education animal at Fox Valley Wildlife Center. She was hit by a car and survived, but suffered neurological trauma, lost her vision, and also some teeth. She is why I learned just how cool, and misunderstood, these mammals are.

Arden Joel holding a disabled opossum

Joel and I keeping Snitch toasty in some blankies at a fundraising event in 2012.

Now that I know better, I’d gladly welcome them into our yard should they choose to visit and provide free cleanup services. I’d never pick up a wild one to pet and cuddle, understandably they get defensive and scared like any other animal that feels threatened, but there is no reason at all to hate.

The initial accident with the opossum may have been unavoidable, but callously driving over him was. Moments like that remind me that I live in an incredibly selfish and neglectful world. However, the kindness and compassion of a young lady who unselfishly answered the call to help end his suffering, reminds me that not everyone is so heartless.

Sometimes there are things can you do to help in these situations and sometimes there aren’t. I get that. But life in the wild is tough enough and there is no need to make it tougher. Have a heart, have some compassion, and please give a shit.

Good to keep handy, Animal Help Now is a resource for wildlife care contacts across the U.S. https://ahnow.org/#/

“Don’t be a hater. Please brake for awesome possums.” – The Awesome Opossum, Center for Biological Diversity

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Peanut Was Here

Joel started a bedtime routine with Peanut many years ago. He’d place her on her bed, pat her lovingly, tell her she was a good girl (whether or not she had been that day), reminded her of how much we love her, and to have sweet dreams. It made her perky little ears and forehead wrinkles go slack. Soon after she’d drift off to sleep. Signaling the official end of the day, she seemed genuinely soothed and relaxed by the whole process.

I adopted the routine when Joel had to be out of town. She always had one or both of us telling her every evening that she was a good girl, that she did a good job for the day, and that we loved her. At some point I added, “Thank you for being here,” because I wanted her to know, in whatever way an animal can know, how much she mattered to us and that we appreciated her being part of our family.joelardenpeanutfamilyportrait

As luck would have it, the very day we decided that we needed a little Peanut in our lives, there was a little Peanut out there who needed us, too. Paperwork from the sellers reflected that she hadn’t had an exam in a long time. As such, they told us that we could return her and get our money back if a checkup revealed any issues. A checkup revealed a bladder infection, an infection in both ears, and cloudy eyes that would require daily drops if we wanted to try to save her vision long-term. Returning her was not an option.

peanutcollection2As her third set of parents, we promised her that this was the last stop and that we’d take care of her forever. From that day forward, our family life evolved into discovering different ways that we could all enjoy spending time together. Bringing her into the fold gave me a sense of completeness. I’m sure it’s similar for any couple that adds to their family; it’s all about caring for, loving on, and spending time with one another. Even as a kid I always longed to be a dog mom and knew someday I’d have a furry little bundle of my own when the time was right. Our little family meant everything to me.

dogmomshirtfrompeanutmothersday

Peanut gave me a Dog Mom shirt for Mother’s Day

She was my morning coffee buddy and office mate. She watched basketball with Joel. She kept my secrets. She passed messages between Joel and I when we were avoiding speaking directly to each other. She knew when we needed comic relief. She was the reason we discovered how much we love walking through forest preserves. She could also be fickle and adorably naughty which we found completely endearing. We were suckers in love with that little dog and she knew it.

peanutisupforanything

Peanut was always up for whatever, whenever. Naps, car rides, walks – she was in. 

We made accommodations for her when she started having some physical challenges due to neurological issues and age. Through trial and error, we found ways to help her that worked well. We made more accommodations as the challenges continued through the years. Despite those challenges, we made life work and we all hung in there, enjoying the gift of time together. It was our mission as her mom and dad to make sure that not only was she as comfortable as could be but that she knew she still mattered to us immeasurably as a member of this family.

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Then, we sensed that we were in a time-frame of last chances to appreciate being together, before those chances were gone. It’s bittersweet to have that time and yet hear the clock tick louder and louder. I knew that Peanut was not exempt from the circle of life, but still…

It’s impossible to articulate the agony of making the decision to free her from a body that had done its very best through the years but was failing faster and faster. I would have done anything not to let her go but she deserved to be free. We owed her that.

Even though she had a full, long life and was loved beyond measure, I was not remotely prepared for the intensity of the grief that began the moment we parted and the most unbearable ache that surrounded my heart. That little dog did more for me and meant more to me than she could ever know.

I actually spent more time with Peanut in those twelve-and-a-half years than I had with Joel. More of a homebody who has worked from home, we were hardly ever apart. From life’s happiest joys to the most painful sorrows and every little thing in between, she had always been there for me. I treasure so many wonderful memories and am grateful for the time we spent together, but the disbelief that our story is over and the degree to which her loss still crushes me varies by the day.

Coincidentally, Peanut and Joel shared a birthday. For the first time in 13 years he won’t have his birthday buddy sharing a celebratory dinner and desert. She would have been 15-years-old today.

Peanut, you were a good girl, you did a good job, and we will always love you. Thank you for being here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Season of KinderGrackle

Common Grackles aren’t a common bird at our feeders, so when at least one started making regular appearances around our deck, it caught my attention.

Adult Common Grackle

Since I already make a habit of watching birds out the kitchen window, I couldn’t help but lock on the unique behavior of suet-dunking from one of the Grackles. When a Grackle with a beakful of suet stopped and bent over to take a drink, I immediately assumed she was too thirsty to fly off and would ditch the suet for the water. But no! She swished the end of her beak around in the water with the suet still firmly gripped and then flew off. How curious!

This intriguing dunk n’ go performance would happen many more times. Within a few weeks it all made sense: Grackle kids.

Adult Grackle Dunking Suet in Water

I learned that just a beakful of water helps the suet go down in a most delightful way!

Even though they were the youngest of the bunch, they were by far the biggest and they seemed to inherently know it. They couldn’t have been out of the nest for too many days yet they already knew that their large size gave them the upper hand.

Juvenile Grackle Harassing Adult Mourning Dove

A youngin’ tells an adult Mourning Dove to go scram.

I’m tickled that somehow the adult Grackles knew that the Seed n’ Feed would be a fine place to park the kids for an afternoon of grazing. The adults would fly in every now and again to make sure everyone was getting enough to eat. Their appearance was met with instant gaping and wing shimmying; it was funny to see such big babies begging for food. Once the adult was gone, the kids would go back to shuffling around to pick and peck at whatever could be picked and pecked at.

At one point I had been watching one sibling chowing down on suet for quite some time before the other sibling finally noticed. I saw the fracas* coming from a mile away.

Grackle Catches Sibling Eating Suet

It’s going down for real.

I assumed there were two siblings since I would always see two at a time, but weeks into watching their regular sibling shenanigans, I looked out the window on a whim to discover that there were actually three Grackle kids. Knowing how often they have to be fed before they are on their own, and especially since they can’t swing into the local grocery store for food, I have no problem helping to make mom and dads job a little easier.

Adult Common Grackle Feeding Three Juveniles Fledglings

Why bother looking for food when mom or dad is still willing to feed you?

Many days have come and gone now with no Grackle kids, but then all of a sudden they’ll materialize, especially on hot days. I worry about them; I worry about all the little ones that come our way each year. I have some idea of how hard it must be out there.

Grackles are not exactly a delicate or ‘pretty’ bird, lumbering about on those big ol’ canoe feet, but nonetheless they’ve been so much fun to observe. Kind of like a backup mom behind the scenes, I’m glad they know they can always drop in whenever they’d like for a bite to eat.

The Fracas

Juvenile Fledgling Grackle Sibling Rivalry

Twelve-Year Pugiversary

Joel and I were seconds away from meeting the dog that was advertised for sale in the local paper. As soon as Joel opened the door to the apartment complex, a then two-and-a-half-year-old Peanut* came trotting from around the corner of an open door and down the hall. “CLOSETHEDOORSHE’SESCAPING!” I yelled. Joel replied, “She’s fine, she’s not going anywhere.”

These would be the roles we would play as her parents for the next twelve years.

Peanut 5 4 04 Homecoming

Her first day on the job of being our best buddy.

I became the overly-protective fussy mother and Joel became the fun dad, the calming voice of reason and the guy she could count on for the “better” treats (certainly not healthier but generally better tasting).

Today we celebrate being a family of three for twelve years.

JoelArdenPeanut_5_16_04_1stPhoto

First family photo.

Much of last year was rough; we didn’t know if we’d reach this milestone. Peanut became very ill. Specifically, she had a MRSA infection and she continues to struggle with those original symptoms from last February which include nasal congestion that still varies in its intensity. Those issues were masking the effects of age that were obviously continuing to happen in the background–the arthritis and trouble that has evolved over time with a wonky wrist and shoulder. Our attention has since turned back towards pain management and mobility support. Now, her vision and her hearing have become rather limited as well.

To say that it has all taken its toll on me emotionally would be an understatement; it’s hard for me to see Peanut this way. Joel handles it much better than I do. He doesn’t like it either, of course, but I’m glad he can be strong when I can’t be. He reminds me that none of us have been cheated out of any time. Quite the opposite; we’ve had more time together than we thought we’d have. I realize this is all part of the journey but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

Arden Peanut Office Mates Then Now

My coworker has been sleeping on the job for 12 years and counting…

I’d love nothing more than to keep this post totally upbeat and fun, but over the past year I haven’t been able to help but think about what we’ve had to say goodbye to and the precious things we’ll never do again. However, it has made me cherish the unique, quirky, and intimate opportunities that come with loving and caring for a senior. Hide-and-seek has become me banging on the ground, pointing to treats, and pretending that she found them first. She is now hand-fed her meals from a cart because she has a hard time standing bent over and seeing food in her dish. Not all of it has been precious though, a lot of learning how to navigate and roll with the changes has been frustrating and downright heartbreaking.

These milestones have become more and more bittersweet.

I could never write a post that truly captures what Peanut means to me because it would never be complete. Heck, I wasn’t able to write this post, which looks nothing like the first few attempts, without crying my eyes out. I’d forever be writing and editing.

From whether or not she needs a coat to go outside, might be getting sick and needs to see the doctor, or has had one too many treats already FUN DAD, she tends to be what Joel and I end up squabbling over the most. She is, after all, our baby.

At 8:00 this morning, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the pug was snoozing peacefully at my side having just finished her breakfast. Joel and I will both leave work early so we can take a group stroll. It is all just as it should be and I am grateful. Happy Anniversary to us.

JoelArdenPeanutOct2015Halloween

12YearsZichs3

12YearsZichs112YearsZichs2

*The people selling her, the second set of owners, referred to her as Princess. According to some paperwork in her folder that we were given, the name on her registration papers is Pretty Pretty Princess. Joel and I both quickly agreed that we’d change it but keep it somewhat similar so as not to totally confuse her. She is peanut-colored, hence the name Peanut. Ironically, we found out shortly after giving her peanut butter-flavored treats that she was allergic to peanuts! Peanut and Pretty Pretty Princess are only two of the countless names we’ve called her over the years (most others being too silly or nonsensical to mention).

Peanut already had pups and was spayed before we got her. I suspect she was originally purchased and bred for a profit, then sold off to her second owners. Over the years I have tried to find our grandpugs with no luck. I’d simply be interested to see what they look like and learn more about them. Perhaps their parents would be interested to learn about Peanut’s health issues, too. Peanut is registered with America’s Pet Registry, Inc. Her mother (dam) is Accardi’s Blossom-Whynonna and her dad (sire) is Rowdy B. I believe the breeder was from Joliet, IL, first owner from Aurora, IL, and the second owners from Elgin, IL. Her date of birth is 12/24/01. If anyone has information on the offspring from a pug named Pretty Pretty Princess, PLEASE reach out.

Love in the Time of Conjunctivitis

A slightly edited version of this post was originally published on 10,000 Birds.

Congratulating myself for leaving the house on time, I got into my car and drove off to meet up with a friend for lunch. Not one minute later, I noticed a small feathery mass sitting in the middle of my lane. Giving the bird a wide berth, I veered towards the other side of the road with the assumption that it would encourage her to fly off. As I drove past her, I glanced in my rearview mirror. She hadn’t budged. I felt compelled to go back and see if the bird was just being fickle or if it was something else.

As I approached on foot, I asked the little House Finch if she was OK, completely expecting her to fly off in a flurry but once again she did not. She moved her head around a bit but that was all. Once I got close enough, I reached out and grabbed her which was too easy to do. That was definitely a bad sign; it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to just walk up to and snatch a healthy adult wild bird. Upon initial inspection, I noticed that one eye was quite squinty and the other was red and completely swollen shut. I immediately assumed it was conjunctivitis and that she’d need rehabilitation.

I was going to be late for lunch.

Since I had no way to safely contain her in the car, I made the short drive back home with her clutched in one hand. Fortunately I was able to get an assist from my husband who set up a shoebox for the poor bird’s ride to the local wildlife rehabilitation facility, Fox Valley Wildlife Center, which was conveniently located just five minutes from my dining destination.

Arden Zich with sick house finch

She’s probably thinking, “So this is how it ends…” Not so, little friend!

In less than 24 hours of receiving medication, the eye that had been swollen shut had calmed down and opened enough for her to see again. Laura Kirk, the wildlife center’s director, said that the bird couldn’t inhale her seeds fast enough once she was set up in her own private quarters. The difficulty she had seeing me come at her must have meant that she’d had a hard time finding food as well.

sick female finch 24 hrs after medication conjunctivitis

The next day.

Not long after her arrival, a male House Finch was admitted with the same malady. Together they stayed in the bird infirmary for a few weeks while being treated with medicated eye drops and an antibiotic in their drinking water. I like to think they comforted each other and passed the time from their respective cages by swapping stories about themselves, how they endured being caught by big scary humans, and their plans for the future.

Once their treatments were complete, they were transferred to a soft release outdoor cage for observation and to readjust to the weather. With no netting between them, the pair was free to frolic about as they pleased until they were cleared for release. When that time came, the couple was chauffeured to the general area where the female finch was found.

male female house finch ready for release

The finch couple anxiously await their release.

Opening the carrier door was a bit uneventful and neither bird chose to leave immediately; they wanted to make sure the coast was clear before leaving their protective confines. Once one finch finally took flight, the other immediately sprang forth in the same direction. Together they flew to a nearby tree to take in the sights and sounds of their new surroundings, hopefully to make good on their plans for the future.

released recovered male female house finches

We ride together, we fly together.

Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis is a highly-contagious disease that primarily affects House Finches but can affect other birds such as Purple Finch and American Goldfinch. Birds can recover from the disease if they don’t first succumb to predation or starvation from the inability to see, which was undoubtedly imminent for “my” House Finch.

It is highly recommended that those who enjoy feeding birds ensure that feeders are spaced far enough apart to avoid crowding, clean feeders on a regular basis, and provide only enough seed for about one to two days. Feeders should be immediately removed and sanitized (10% bleach solution) and feeding area cleaned if sick birds have been observed in that area.

For more information and tips on how to help decrease spread of disease:

The Raccoon Rode Shotgun

A growing desire to get some food I can’t get at the local grocery store trumped my antipathy of getting into traffic and shopping with the masses on the afternoon of Sunday, June 7th. Reluctantly, I set out for my 16-mile journey.

About twenty minutes into my half hour trip, I noticed a soggy little animal trotting along the side of the street close to a busy intersection. It seemed like the size and shape of a kitten. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do in the moment but figured I should at least try to catch it. Once I was able to pull over and get a better look, I noticed a distinctive white and black mask.

That was no kitty cat. It was a little raccoon.Intersection Where Arden Finds Raccoon June 2015

This is the intersection where we first met.

I was not prepared to fiddle with a raccoon that afternoon. However, in those seconds of deciding what to do, I knew immediately where I could take her. If I were a helpless raccoon kit about to play in traffic, I’d hope that someone in a position to help would do just that. The grocery expedition would have to wait.

Fortunately the wee bandit hung a right as well, sending her my direction. Thinking fast about what to do and how to do it, I grabbed a beach towel from the back seat. I stretched out the towel as I approached her. Her curiosity quickly erupted into fits of screams and clawing the moment I threw the towel over her. Can’t blame her, I’d have done the same thing.

By the way, did anyone else at this busy intersection pull over or roll down a car window to ask if everything was alright or if I needed a hand? NO. 

Pinned down against the sidewalk under the towel, I worked fast to bundle her up like a burrito so that she couldn’t nip or scratch me.

My work with the wildlife center has taught me to keep a few old towels in the car for just such an occasion but unfortunately I had no way to contain her. Looking at my options, I had several large tote bags for my shopping trip, so I started bagging. She was carefully triple-bagged for good measure because raccoons carry disease that can be transferred to people and pets. Besides, my vivid imagination already had her escaping from a bag and attacking me, sending us both careening off the road. I placed her on the passenger seat next to me. It was the best way to ensure I could keep an eye on the road and any funny business coming from the bags.

When I finally arrived at the center, I anxiously handed over my sack o’ raccoon to staff member Audrey. With bated breath I asked if the kit was OK. There had been no movement or sound at all from the bag during the entire trip. About four seconds after making her way through the towel, Audrey flinched and said, “She’s alive.”

She was immediately put in a quarantined area for new raccoon arrivals and given a vaccine against the Distemper virus. I’d have to wait a week or two to even learn if she was carrying a disease that would change her fate yet again.

raccoon after intake June 2015

This is now her beach towel.

Fortunately that time came and went without any health issues. I’m told by staff that she mellowed over time once she got used to the routine of being fed and not smothered in towels. Since she was so little, she received daily formula feedings until she was old enough to be weaned onto solid foods.

Raccoon in rehab July 2015

Getting ready for a feeding. Doesn’t she look less “attacky”?

Once she was eating solids on her own she was moved outside to an enclosure that allowed her to readjust to the changing temperatures, climb, huddle up, and get her own food (which was provided in the enclosure but she had to make an effort to go get it).

Raccoons in outside enclosure 2015

I’m thrilled that she was released on October 17th  with several raccoon friends to a heavily wooded area. Here are some photos of the release:

one raccoon leaving cage

several raccoons leave cages

newly realeased raccoon plays in forest

raccoon climbs tree for first time

raccoon up in tree for first time

Kits are left orphaned usually because mom was hit by a car or she was trapped and removed from someone’s property. When the latter happens, kits may be left behind somewhere in the house or around the property unbeknownst to the home or land owner.

It’s not uncommon for raccoons to make themselves at home where humans are likely to leave lots of goodies in the trash. They’ll eat just about anything, so any food trash and pet food left outside makes their job to find food a lot easier. They also look for warm, quiet spots to raise their young, like attics. They too have a “work smarter not harder” ethic. Desirable? No. Admirable? Yes. There are several good resources available from The Humane Society’s “What to Do About Raccoons.”

There are occasions when someone without the proper permits or licenses tries to rehab a raccoon at home or even keep a little one as a pet. Bad idea. Why? Here are 10 reasons from “The Wild Animal That Doesn’t Belong in Your Home” by Dr. Becker. Aside from ensuring that the animal gets the right nutrition, is fed properly, and follows an appropriate weaning schedule, once an animal like a raccoon is imprinted and/or has become accustomed to life with humans, it’s extremely difficult to make them wild again or hypnotize them into thinking it all never happened.

I’m definitely not suggesting that anyone go put themselves in harm’s way by handling a wild animal that could bite, scratch or carry disease! However, if you’re an animal lover like me and are likely to help a critter in need*, you may want to have handy:

  • Protective gloves in the car
  • Old towels or sheets (old t-shirts and comfy clothes that can’t be donated work too!)
  • A box or crate (or even sturdy tote bags in a pinch!) that allows the animal to breath but not escape
  • Bungee cords (I stash these everywhere)
  • The Animal Help Now link and phone app to help identify local animal rehabilitators

*In need refers to a bird or animal that is truly orphaned or requires medical care. Not all little ones found alone are necessarily orphaned. For example, mother cottontail rabbit leaves her nest for an entire day so you might never see her. Sometimes little ones like birds and squirrels can be reunited with the parent which is always the animal’s best chance for survival. I knew for certain this raccoon was much too small to be ambling aimlessly around town, especially in the middle of the day. Young animals that would not otherwise leave their nest or den may do so if mother stops coming around to feed them; they’ll go in search of food even if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Consult a local licensed wildlife rehabber if you’re ever in doubt of what to do.

Home Made Small Dog Coat and Harness: When Store-Bought Won’t Do

A pug mom takes matters into her own hands when she discovers that it was impossible to buy off-the-rack for her barrel-chested baby.  

My experience with dog apparel started years ago with a really cute cowl neck knit pullover coat purchased from a pet store. It would keep Peanut’s bare belly warm, and as a bonus, she’d look extra adorable! Tags removed, I tried to work the pug into the sock-like tube. It wasn’t great. Later on I’d discover another off-the-rack coat that was not only thicker but also fastened with Velcro. Even better! Tags removed, I lifted her up from the front, awkwardly threaded her legs through the leg holes (which could take a while if she kept pulling her legs back out) and tried to affix the Velcro under the belly. It was about one to two inches away from fastening. I would continue to find a variety of coats that seemed like winners but always missed the mark.

Determined that Peanut would have a coat she could actually wear, I decided to take a sewing class and make one myself. Since I hadn’t touched a sewing machine since Junior High school, I took a basic sewing class from the local Jo-Ann Fabrics store. Our instructor Teri was fabulous and helped me pick out a good, basic sewing machine.

Experimenting with different patterns using fleece bulk fabric, I finally found a pattern that worked well.

  • It accommodates her barrel chest
  • It’s easy to get on and off
  • Peanut can be standing or sitting while I put on the coat
  • No awkward wrestling with getting legs in and out

From my various attempts, this is one of the designs I like best.

Winter Coat How-To

Materials

  • Fleece fabric: Whole piece sized large enough to fold over and cover the dog’s entire body from neck to tail. In my opinion, an extra layer for the tummy is a nice touch.
  • Velcro: Enough strips to be applied from neck to tail along the back side as well as at least two long strips on the underside that will fold over to meet the back. Having enough Velcro allows for easy application each time the coat is put on; nothing needs to line up exactly to get a snug fit.
  • Fabric Shears: Any scissors will do but fabric-only shears seem to make extra-sharp cuts.
  • Pins
  • Sewing Machine: Primarily for the Velcro as I find that too difficult to stitch by hand.

I started out by ensuring I first had the proper length with the cut for the neck. Next, I played around with how much I would need to cut away around the shoulders so that it narrowed properly. The only hems here are around the shoulders so that it looks a bit neater. The fabric keeps its shape well enough around all the edges. It doesn’t stretch out or fray so adding any additional length to your measurements for hems is unnecessary.

Note that the Velcro strips sewn on the back narrow towards the tail to accommodate a snugger fit for Peanut. (Her sparsely-furred belly hangs a bit back there and I did not want her catching a draft.) I did not modify the cut of the cloth, only how I applied the Velcro.

Use caution and common sense if you do any measuring, cutting, and pinning while the coat is on the dog!

homemade winter coat dog pug design stocky barrel chested

homemade winter coat dog pug putting on the coat.pptx

Coat-cum-Harness

Since the winter coats were originally created, Peanut has required some assistance with keeping her balance when we let her out to go potty. She has trouble at times keeping steady, especially on uneven ground. I assumed we’d need to purchase a separate harness, but when I considered factors such as the accuracy of fit, threading her into a harness four times a day, and possibly having to put the harness over the coat, I considered turning the existing coat into a harness. An internet search revealed a photo of a key chain ring that was sewn onto a fabric harness for just the upper body that would allow for attaching a leash. Bingo!

Materials

  • Dog coat
  • Key chain rings
  • Ribbon
  • Sewing machine
  • Bungee cord or luggage strap with hooks

Attaching ribbon and key chains to dog coat

I conveniently had access to lots of unused key chains, so I sewed a ribbon over the back of the coat and threaded it through the key rings. It’s important to consider where the pressure will be applied when pulling up so it’s as comfortable as possible on your bestie. I focused the pressure around the upper chest, avoiding the neck, and just below the hip bones. Since the coat covers the entire upper and lower body, the pressure should be more distributed.

Dog coat made into harness with key chain rings front and side view

Yes, I have my dog attached to a bungee cord – but hear me out! 

I could have used a strap with clips from a piece of luggage, for example, but I went with a bungee cord secured by twist ties. It’s a good length for me to hold (a bit short for my husband) and affords a little give when tugging upwards. The twist ties are a simple way to keep the cord hooks from unhooking.

Summer-Weight Harness

Using the same basic pattern of the winter coat, I created a summer-weight harness.

Summer and winter weight home made dog coat

Summer and winter weight home made dog coat 2

The pink coat in this photo has a variation in the Velcro pattern from the first coat shown. This pattern affords more wiggle room for where exactly the sides get attached. It’s a matter of preference.

The summer harness uses the same basic pattern of the winter coat which is cut from one large piece of cloth. Two pieces of cloth could be stitched together but the idea is that it folds over the dog so the dog is covered from the base of the underbelly to the base of the back. Most of the middle of the belly is cut away as well as the upper back. The straps along the back are about 2.5″ wide; leaving enough room for one to two strips of Velcro. To add back support for the key rings, two pieces of a stiffer fabric were sewn to both the front and back of the harness. Some additional editing for a snugger fit was required after the basic harness was created.

Summer weight dog harness details

Peanut in summer weight home made harness

There are undoubtedly rugged, well-crafted harnesses available for purchase. Those options were explored, but since I wanted something right away and was concerned about sizing and the inability to return a custom order, I decided to try my hand at making one. For our purposes, these home made coat/harnesses work perfectly well.

Rain Visor

A few years after I made my winter coat, I discovered this one by RC Pets purchased from Healthy Pet in Aurora, IL that is really close to what I had been originally searching for. Even though Peanut is petite for a pug, she is a size 14, so a bit larger than the total sizing and weight would suggest. It’s warm and attaches easily with velcro. As a bonus, it is also water resistant. In an “if-only-it-kept-the-rain-off-her-head-too” train of thought, I came up with a way to attach a rain visor to the collar.

Rain visor for dog coat using clear plastic and velcro

I purchased clear plastic fabric from the store and continually cut down the size in a visor shape until it appeared to hold up and not flop over from its own weight while pinned to either side. Using velcro, I cut little squares and stiched them to both the underside of the collar and the visor. If it’s not raining, I don’t use the visor.

I sewed key chain rings directly to the coat for harness support as well, so this is now our go-to coat for rainy days.

Dog coat color up and down with without rain visor

Want to see how I use mitten clips and suspenders to attach little doggie socks? Check out The Dogged Battle of Frosty Paws.