Dog collars lead to gripping hobby

Woman creates custom collars to handle ‘reactive’ pets

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SHALER, Pa. — Sandra Smith has been making things her entire life. So when she couldn’t find a collar that suited Scout, her 55-pound pit bull mix, she used her sewing machine to make one.

Collars she saw in pet stores “were too cute-sy,” she said, and many had weak plastic closures or rings to attach to the leash.

Scout was 8 weeks old when she found him in a ditch 10 years ago. He is a sweet and loving pet but is sometimes “reactive” to other dogs. When he reaches the end of his leash, Smith needed a sturdy collar with metal hardware to hold him.

Four years ago, she made a few collars for Scout. Now she makes 1,000 a year and it’s her second job. Each Scout Dog collar bears the company name and the profile of a black dog that looks like Scout.

In photos, Scout, 10, wears a red-and-white plaid collar that contrasts nicely with his black fur. Smith’s other dog, an 11-year-old Great Pyrenees mix named Gracie, wears a collar with a pink print.

Scout and Gracie each have four collars because Smith says she’s “a collar junkie.”

She made each dog a new collar for classes at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, “like for the first day of school.”

The highest priced collar is $26; for an additional $6, the dog’s name and owner’s telephone number can be embroidered on. Scotchgard is applied to make the collars stain-resistant.

“I like to use vibrant colors,” Smith says.

She also sells a $5 “tag caddy” on her website. It allows collar junkies to easily remove the tags from one collar and attach them to another.

Initially she used a regular sewing machine in her Shaler, Pa., home. “After killing four machines, I invested in an industrial sewing machine.”

Her full-time job is in the programming department at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in the Strip District. She spends about 20 hours a week making the dog collars.

Scout Dog Collars are available online http://scoutdogcollars.com.