- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Summer 2015

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Creature Comforts: Quilting & Knitting for Animal Charities

By Deb Hensel

Quilters, knitters, and crochet artists who are passionate about needle and fiber arts are often generous in giving their handiwork to family, friends, and community charities. But sometimes, they go the extra mile to help four-legged friends through animal charities, too.

For three years, International Quilt Festival has supported Houston’s Friends for Life animal rescue, donating a cumulative total of more than $74,000 collected through “Pet Postcards” created by quilters and offered for sale at Festival.

“Quilters are our heroes!” says Salise Shuttlesworth, Friends For Life Director. “I had no idea what a sophisticated, extraordinary art form this is. As if the art were not enough, the warmth of the community is overwhelming. To see quilters rally around this cause and send gifts born of their talent and their love of animals is so inspiring. This donation literally translates into thousands of animal lives improved or saved.”

Oregon Zoo volunteers are also very busy making quilts for some of the higher primates in Portland, home of Quilt! Knit! Stitch! taking place August 13-15 at the Oregon Convention Center.

The volunteer sewing team—ranging in age from 14 to quilters in their late 70s, and representing all skill levels—is a subset of larger volunteer group that helps provide enrichment items for primates and other animals. For 10 years, sewing team members have created quilts for orangutans, chimpanzees, mandrills, lion cubs, black bears, dwarf mongoose, and small contact animals in the Zoo’s education program.

The orangutans and chimpanzees use these quilts for nest building—one of their natural behaviors—and for wrapping themselves up. At ZooLights, the winter holiday lighting event, Zoo guests can often get a glimpse of the chimps bedding down for the night.

“The chimps will lay down branches or straw in the nest perches, then carefully cover the pile with a quilt. Then they will choose another quilt, lie down and arrange it over themselves before sleeping,” says Hova Najarian, the Zoo’s media and public relations officer.

Pockets sewn into the quilts give keepers a place to hide treats, which encourages natural foraging instincts as well.

“At our annual Presents for Primates event, keepers present orangutans and chimpanzees with wrapped boxes filled with treats,” Najarian adds. “Before we began quilting, these treats had been wrapped in crumpled newspaper and placed in the boxes. But about three years ago, we started putting the quilts inside the wrapped presents, with the treats tucked inside the pockets.

“One of the chimps, Leah, opened a present, saw the quilt, and just tossed it aside. She opened a second package, saw the quilt, and threw it aside. She opened a third, saw the quilt, got agitated, and threw it even further away,” he says. “Then she turned and saw the other chimps busily going through the quilt pockets and finding treats, and she quickly ran and gathered her three quilts, settling down to retrieve the treats.”

All the quilts are made on the Zoo grounds with specific parameters for animal safety, and with materials funded by the enrichment budget. The volunteers stitch about 40 to 50 quilts per year, and quilts are washed and reused until normal wear and tear begins to create a safety concern.

“Quilts don’t last long in Red Ape Reserve, the zoo’s orangutan habitat,” Najarian says. “The orangs like to examine how things are made.

“Inji—who at 55 is the oldest Oregon Zoo resident and one of the world’s oldest orangutans in captivity—examines them closely, looking at all of the colors, patterns, and seams,” he adds. “She wraps herself in them, makes them into serapes, and uses them for her nests. We have discovered that an indestructible quilt for orangutans needs to be made from fleece. They cannot tear that fabric.”

“Making the quilts is a win-win situation all around,” says Jennie McKee, who heads up the zoo quilting team. “First, we have the pleasure of teaching people to sew, to make quilts in a non-stressful environment, and seeing their joy of accomplishment.

“If your seam is not perfect, the mantra is ‘the chimps don’t care.’ The animals are going to like the quilts even if the colors don’t work or the block doesn’t come out just right,” she adds. “There is a real satisfaction in knowing something we made provides the animals with opportunities to engage in natural behaviors, which is the purpose of animal enrichment.”

Hugs for Homeless Animals (H4HA), also based in Portland, created the Snuggles Project, an opportunity for crafters to knit, crochet, or sew “Snuggles” (soft bedding, kennel pads, quilts, and blankets) to help comfort shelter animals around the world.

“After being given a Snuggle, a frightened and/or difficult-to-handle animal is able to become calm,” the organization explains. “This calming effect gives the animal and the caregiver time to learn how to handle the situation. We believe that this calming effect has saved the lives of many newly-sheltered animals.”

Since the project was launched in 1996, more than one million Snuggles have been created and donated to shelters, says founder Rae French, who has been knitting since she was nine years old.

“We stopped counting when we hit one million,” she adds. The project is the forerunner of many other similar charities that now benefit shelter animals, French says, adding, “a Snuggle by any other name is still a Snuggle.”

Handcrafted items have come from needle workers from as far away as Canada, India, Norway, Germany, Jamaica, France, Kuwait, Lebanon, Croatia, Thailand, Ecuador, Peru, and Russia.

Snuggles serve several purposes, French says. First, the benefit to shelter animals is both a psychological and physical comfort. The Snuggle gives them something to hold onto, and helps them acclimate to a shelter environment when they’re frightened.

French remembers delivering Snuggles to a shelter where some of the animals had “free-range” privileges. When one of the Snuggles fell to the floor, it was quickly snatched up by a dog that was later seen sleeping in the corner on top of its newly acquired treasure.

A secondary benefit is for the crafter who may have a sizeable stash of fabric or yarn to delve into. A pattern library on the site offers instructions for people who knit, crochet, or sew to create bedding and pet toys. One pattern even offers suggestions for turning an old sweater into a Snuggle.

“A Snuggle doesn’t have to be perfect,” French adds.

“Another benefit is the good feeling that the Snuggle maker (aka Snuggler) receives when they create something using a skill that they know and love for an animal who really needs their gift,” the organization explains.

Finally, Snuggles provide a more homey and welcoming environment for visitors to the shelter. Softening the edges and adding color to an institutional setting encourages them to stay longer and take more time to make an adoption choice, the website explains.

When natural disasters strike, it’s not just humans who need a helping hand. The Quilt Pattern Magazine (TQPM), based in Arlington, Texas, held a “Kitties on Quilts” photo contest for a few years before the Petfinder Foundation came onboard as a sponsor to help create awareness of the plight of homeless animals.

In 2012, TQPM began offering free Kennel Quilt patterns on its website after Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern United States that fall. That’s when Marketing Director Nan Baker got another idea.

“As a former disaster responder for The Humane Society of the United States, I knew that affected shelters would need help,” Baker says. “The Quilt Pattern Magazine put out a call to its readers to make Kennel Quilts that would help animal shelters affected by the hurricane. More than 100 Kennel Quilts were sent from all over the United States, Canada, and even England.”

The Petfinder Foundation and TQPM decided to continue the project, and to date, more than 1,400 quilts have been distributed to shelters affected by disasters. In late May, Baker says the organization was already fielding requests from shelters affected by record floods in Texas and Oklahoma.

Now, Aurifil Threads has joined the effort, offering a Small Kennel Quilt Thread Kit in neutral “pet” colors, with proceeds benefitting the Petfinder Foundation. Bernina USA is also a sponsor, offering a class on making Kennel Quilts at their Bernina University this summer. Additionally, Island Batik and The Warm Company are also helping by donating fabric and batting for special events.

Quilters who wish to make and contribute Kennel Quilts can find more information on their website.

Baker says she has seen firsthand how important it is to provide a soft resting place for shelter cats. At a shelter in North Carolina, after Hurricane Floyd, she observed cats sitting in their litter boxes to avoid the feel of cold, hard steel kennel bars on their paw pads. As soon as they were given something soft to sit on, it made a world of difference.

“They were much happier and less stressed,” she says. “What a concept! This is why we started making Kennel Quilts.”

 

 

PHOTO C

PHOTO A

PHOTO B

PHOTO D

PHOTO E

Photo Cutlines

 

Photo A: Pet Postcards sold at the International Quilt Festival in Houston raised more than $74,000 for shelter animals over the past three years.

 

Photo B: Kutai, a male Sumatran orangutan, admires his quilt at the Oregon Zoo. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Zoo)

 

Photo C: Inji, one of the oldest orangutans in captivity, appreciates the workmanship of a quilt made just for her. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Zoo)

 

Photo D:  A shelter dog finds warmth in a fleece Snuggle. (Copyright © 2014 by Hugs for Homeless Animals)

 

Photo E:  Fabric depicting yarn balls, fish, and mice make a “purrfect” Kennel Quilt for this shelter kitten.  (Photo courtesy of The Quilt Pattern Magazine and Kennel Quilts)

 

© 2015. A publication of Quintessential Quilt Media. No portion may be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Quilts, Inc.