My daughter Brianna calls one day and asks, “Mom can you take Ilya?” A colossal of husky fur and attitude, I say no. But it’s not the dog; it’s just that I am whirling in my own grief over the loss of two dogs in a span of six months. It’s a loss that reflects this season of parenthood when children clamber out of the nest leaving me to question, “When did those toddlers with Legos and Barbie shoes strewn across the living room floor get to be so grown?”
Maybe the dogs with their proclivity to scatter tennis balls and shred Rice-A-Roni boxes from the recycling bin save me from the reality that a clean living room equates to a vacant one. We had three children and as they successively put away childish things I cumulated four dogs. Actually, at one point, I had 13 German Short-haired Pointers, 10 being puppies. Hence four seemed reasonable, until one died of indeterminate seizures and the other of cancer. Now, two was enough.
Ilya was a freshman puppy—you know, one of those dogs that 18-year olds get because now they can. What an 18-year old does not yet realize is that college, retail jobs and late-night partying leave no time to raise, train and commit to the needs of a dog. Ilya’s life coursed a bumpy trail from the beginning. The girlfriend of Brianna’s roommate (one of five or six) gave the husky-mix as a gift. Within a month Ilya suffered a broken leg; by adulthood he was regularly caged, rarely walked and fed pizza.
While llya hacky-sacked from boyfriend to girlfriend, I could see the misery in Brianna’s eyes. She knew what it was like to have dogs, and I believe it broke her heart to see a dog in such sad circles. He was no longer in her house—she moved on to fewer roommates—but she saw or heard of him regularly. And the latest news was not good: Ilya was headed to the pound. Brianna, knowing my heart for dogs, was asking me to intervene, and I said no.
No turned into, “Get him!” when Brianna called again, crying that Ilya had not found a home and the humane society deemed him unadoptable. You see, he couldn’t be caged. His tolerance was gone and being a husky Ilya was vocal about his predilection for a cage-free existence. If you know huskies, then you understand their insistent voice. Pressuring him to silence led to snapping; snapping became his death knell. At least the humane society allowed Brianna’s friend to take back Ilya after surrendering him and by the end of that day Ilya joined my two pointers. Long hair, meet short.
When I say that Ilya has long hair or lots of hair, I mean that he is a Merino sheep in wolf’s clothing. The hair! He doesn’t shed; he discards pillow cases of downy mass. A single brushing gains a pile of fur that is enough to transplant the skins of at least 10 Mexican Hairless Chihuahuas. Huskies, bred for Artic conditions, come equipped with their own natural parkas. Like snow, his fur piles everywhere. Fast-forward to felting…
Ultimately the couple who rescued Ilya and gave him a forever home is my other daughter, Allison and her husband Drew. And they didn’t stop at Ilya—he has a pack-mate named Jasper, a farm dog husky-mix from northern Wisconsin. Between the two dogs, there is enough dog wool to knit everyone in the nation a sweater—or so it seems. That got Allison to thinking about felting. Why not put all that discarded hair to use or craft into art?
So, my daughter Allison asks me, “What do you think about a felted tea cozy out of Ilya-wool?” Hmm, sorting, carding, felting, crocheting are not familiar terms to me. But Iyla’s fur is soft and his sloughed mats are promising as a creative project. Allison once felted wool mittens and she has a paper bag packed with Ilya’s undercoat from furminating him daily (the Furminator is a special comb designed to groom heavy-shedding dogs). It seems that all she needs to green-light this project is knowledge of the craft.
That’s how we turned up at Northwoods Dyeworks in Ashland—to find out how to card and felt wool. Let’s pause. If you are crafty in a folksy way, skip this part. If you are like me and think “card” is something you deal in a poker game and “felt” comes from Ben Franklin’s then hang around and read. Talking to the shop’s owner Libby, quirky and Quaker, we swapped stories and learned that while it is labor intensive, felting Ilya is entirely possible.
Before husky wool is spun into yarn it must first be carded. The card is a tool, and you need two. They look like a pair of large cat brushes which has me thinking, can you card right off the dog, skipping the furmination? Apparently the answer is no; you card between two paddles. Felting is a process of heat and agitation, which sounds like Ilya’s disposition on a muggy summer day. It is more complicated than mere furmination.
Before carding and felting, however, comes cleaning and sorting. Cleaning is a given—who wants a hat that smells like dog? Sorting is separating hairs. Evidently, guard hairs—which make up the pokey coat of a GSP—are not desirable. Libby explains a wool-maker’s trick: buy two travel pillow cases (smaller than a regular twin) and stuff the clean husky wool into one while still damp from cleaning. Place the stuffed case into the second one and tumble dry on low or no heat (this is not yet the felting stage). The wool will fluff and push the guard hairs into the second pillow case.
Libby also tells us that she never spins for money, but once she spun wolf hair for a woman. She says it is a lot of work. She advises Allison to mix Ilya’s wool with Corriedale wool—a great felting fleece. Allison mentions her idea for making a felted and crocheted tea cozy out of Ilya wool which leads to a discussion of smelly wool, rams and intact male dogs. Somehow we begin talking about PETA and how outrageous it is that the organization sent a letter to the judicial court in Duluth demanding criminal charges against Lake Superior Zoo, following the horrific flash floods that drowned the barnyard animals and ravens.
Take a deep breath and imagine rescue—it’s all about commitment. The zoo was committed to their animals and they asked for help. Libby has a friend whose friend is a fireman in Duluth and he tells of disrupted rescues at the zoo because the human rescues prioritized the day. It was 3 a.m. when harbor seals popped up in downtown Duluth. You’ve seen the photo; it went viral, but did you see the whites of that seal’s eyes? He was terrified. He was rescued, so was the polar bear. Unless you’ve experienced a wall of water 80 feet wide cascading upon you; unless you’ve rescued an unadoptable dog, don’t judge.
The answer for the day is yes.