For 11 years, Cindy Briggs had been collecting fur from her golden retriever, Carly, putting it in plastic bags, and storing it in the closet. She had no specific plans for it, but something kept her from throwing it away.
The dog kept shedding, and Briggs kept brushing and collecting. Over those 11 years, she moved the fur to three apartments, and always took care never to squash it.
"I didn't know why I was doing it," she said, "but it turned out to be a blessing."
Briggs' beloved pet has been dead for two years, but the dog trainer from the suburbs of Washington has a memento of Carly's presence right in her home. Through the Pet Yarn Chic Web site, Briggs had the fur she collected spun into a fuzzy golden yarn. With the yarn she had an afghan knitted, and it now sits on top of a side table in her living room, with a piece of glass over it.
"I can touch it any time I like," she said. She originally had planned to drape it over her couch.
The only problem was, it shed.
The Pet Yarn Chic Web site (www.petyarnchic.com) was founded by N'ann Harp, a brand manager from Asheville, N.C., and owner of a long-haired cat named Tyler who "shed like a porcupine blowing quills."
"I was going out of my mind," she said.
In an attempt to manage the fur balls blowing through her house like tumbleweeds, Harp began following the cat around with a plastic bag, which she stuffed full of the tufts he left behind. On a whim, she took the collected fur to a local knitting and fiber-arts store, Asheville NC Home Crafts, to see if the owner could spin it into yarn. The owner said yes, and a new business was born.
Because most pet owners do not have access to spinners, who can be difficult to find, Harp has set up two Web sites to connect them. For the spinners - usually stay-at-home-mother hobbyists - she founded the Critter Knitter Guild, a loose association of spinners who get paid to spin yarn.
And for pet owners who have been hoarding dog, cat, or rabbit fur, she founded Pet Yarn Chic: You send her $49.95, and she sends you back a handbook, shipping supplies, and hair-collection instructions.
The cost of spinning the yarn varies, depending on the individual pet's hair and any special care and handling it might require, but prices start at about $10 or $12 per ounce. If you are not a knitter, you can pay an additional fee to have a garment knitted for you.
Pet hair can be difficult to spin, so Harp has had to work hard to find experienced spinners. Dog and cat fur tends to be shorter and more slippery than wool fibers, requiring more twists per inch to help it stay together. And dog fur in particular tends to be smelly due to a natural lanolin in the dogs' skin. Further, not every animal's fur is spinnable - only the fur of long-haired cats and the fluffy undercoat of dogs can be spun into yarn.
Still, Marie Hendrix, a spinner for the Critter Knitter Guild and co-owner of the Asheville NC Home Crafts store, thinks dog and cat fur can be used to create beautiful yarn.
"It is a very soft hair, so it develops a halo around it like angora does, almost an aura," she said. "It is a very comfortable, lovely, luscious fiber."