Busy hands make coats for chilled canines
Published: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 11:44 p.m.
OCALA - The hands of Yvonne Johnson and her volunteers reach out to their friends with paws. The women make coats to help protect dogs when temperatures take a dip.
"The coats are not just for anyone who happens to want one. They are to go [only] to the pets of the homeless or seniors who need help with keeping their pets warm," Johnson said.
Her goal is to help people maintain their pets and avoid having to surrender their dogs to animal shelters. Johnson said the homeless people she has met deserve support in caring for their canine companions.
"Their dogs are never too thin," she said. "Homeless people make sure their dogs have food, even if their owners need to cut down on their own."
When Dr. Kevin Stoothoff, of South Ocala Animal Clinic, works with Interfaith Emergency Services and Brothers Keeper, he lets homeless pet owners know about the opportunity to provide warmth for their animals. Johnson gave Stoothoff some of the coats and hopes he will give them to people who need them.
Through a grant, Stoothoff implements a pilot program for homeless people who are unable to afford basic veterinary care or pet food. He learned of Johnson's work when she met with him to talk about a different pet owner's support program she plans for the future.
Johnson's volunteer work on behalf of animals began at the Marion County Humane Society. There, she started the training team.
Sharon Heber was one of the team's volunteers who taught basic commands to dogs. She said the skills, such as sitting and walking on a leash, "make a dog more adoptable."
Heber has joined the coat sewing effort. She, Irene McKenzie and Gail Lindstrom sew the double-layered coats after Donna Spurgeon cuts the garments from donated sweatshirts.
The coats, adjusted in width by Velcro strips, are made in sizes to fit dogs large and small. They are made from large and extra large sweatshirts or similar materials.
The coats are cut full, because all dogs, especially those with very short hair, need protection on their backs and on their bellies.
Patricia Gilmore and Mary Ann Sabo, of Silver Springs Shores, coordinate the relay of materials to be sewn. They also pick up finished garments.
While the dog coats can help keep pets warm in Florida's cold weather, precautions still should be taken during bitter cold times, including seeking shelter for the animals.
Johnson is looking for people to get the word out and help distribute the coats to people who need them. She hopes to find a church group that would like to get involved with the project.
Homeless people, or those unable to provide warm shelter for their dogs, may call Johnson at 236-6699.
"Call me, and I will drive [the coats] to you," she said.
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