Subarctic Spinners make dog fur hats and ear bands

Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- When Robin Underwood found out a new law outlawing the selling or making of products with dog fur didn't apply to hair that is brushed or shed, she breathed a little easier.

''That's a relief,'' she said Tuesday by phone from her home in Kenny Lake.

Underwood is one of three partners in Subarctic Spinners Cooperative, the state's most prolific maker of dog fur products. She and her two partners, Lynn DeFillippo of Fairbanks and Lauralee Matlock of Cantwell, make hundreds of hats and ear bands out of hair that has been brushed or shed from Alaska sled dogs. The goods are sold to tourists in gift shops around the state.

''I was concerned. We've been doing this for 14 years and it's turned out to be a good, little business for us,'' said Matlock, a former musher turned mother who once finished the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. ''We easily sell 50 to 100 pounds of dog fur a year.''

There is one ounce of dog fur in an ear band and two or three ounces in a hat, Matlock said.

The bill signed by President Clinton late last week bans the import, export and sale in the United States of products made with dog or cat fur, which is defined as ''the pelt or skin of any animal.''

''The language in the measure speaks to the pelt or skin of an animal, not to loose hairs or loose fur,'' said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, the animal rights group that pushed for the bill. ''We urged language that would not cover brushed hair from a dog or cat.''

The law is the end result of a two-year Humane Society investigation that aired on Dateline NBC and exposed the international trade in products, clothes, accessories, figures and novelty items made from the fur and pelts of cats and dogs. The investigation traced the products from their manufacturing sites -- many in China and other parts of Asia -- to prominent retailers in the U.S., including Burlington Coat Factory, Hallmark and Ben Franklin stores.

Under the new law, selling, making or transporting clothing, toys or other items made with the fur and skins of dogs and cats could bring a maximum $10,000 fine.

The bill was introduced last year in Congress by Sen. William V. Roth, R-Del., and Rep. Jerry Kleczka, D-Wis.

Underwood said the first she had heard of the new law was a blurb on the radio Tuesday.

''It definitely caught my ear,'' she said. ''I was hoping we were an exception but you never know.''

Underwood, Matlock and DeFillippo collect shed and brushed-out dog hair mainly from dog mushers. They clean it and ship it off to be blended with wool so they can hand spin it into yarn.

The three women started the business when they were all living in Cantwell, but they have since spread to different corners of the Interior. The business has remained intact, however.

''It's something I can do at home and on my own time,'' Matlock said.

The hats and ear bands they make are sold in shops in Denali Park, Talkeetna, Willow, Chitina and Cantwell, Matlock said.

An ear band sells for $30 and a hat is $60.

''It's really warm,'' Underwood said. ''People love it. We have a little tag with a write up telling people what it is and saying this fur used to keep an Alaskan sled dog warm.

''Some of it might not ever be worn, but they just like the idea,'' she said.

There is no evidence that pets are being killed in the United States for their fur, but DNA tests on furs have confirmed that products like gloves, fur linings and insoles for shoes and boots made with dog or cat hair have been sold in this country, the Humane Society said.

An estimated 2 million dogs and cats are killed each year for the international fur trade, the animal rights group estimates.

(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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