Do you have a dog who’s tough on toys? Mike Deering does. His dogs would destroy a supposedly “indestructible” toy in a matter of hours, stuffing and fabric remnants littering his home. Not only annoyed at the cost of such flimsy toys, Mike worried that the loose stuffing could be a choking hazard. Then inspiration struck. He had the idea to use old fire hose to create tough-as-nails tug and fetch dog toys. To sew through the thick material, he would need a heavy-duty sewing machine. Luckily, the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® was more than up to the challenge.
Mike and his wife, Pam, have always been big animal lovers. “I was raised with cats for the most part,” Mike recalled. “Pam has had cats and dogs all her life. She also had a potbellied pig for 15 years.” The couple currently has four dogs: Sissy, a beagle/German Shepherd mix; Travis, is a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix; Chico, a 9-year-old Chihuahua/rat terrier mix; and Luna, a mini schnauzer/poodle mix. The couple adopted all of their dogs from the Humane Society of Ventura County California. “One thing Pam and I agree on is, ‘rescued’ is our favorite breed.”
The couple transitioned their love of dogs into a business. In 2012, Pam started a pet sitting and dog walking business. Mike joined the company the following year. Both of their dogs are tough on toys in different ways. Sissy “kills ‘indestructible’ toys,” as Mike put it. The stuffing would be strewn all over the house, creating a potential choking and eating hazard. Travis, on the other hand, is a very aggressive tug of war player. Mike needed a stuffing-free toy that was not only tough but long enough to protect his hands from Travis’s sharp canines.
Fed up with buying toys that his dogs would destroy in no time, he started doing some research. “I read that zookeepers were using fire hose to make toys for tigers in their care, which started me thinking.” And soon, Mike took his idea and turned it into a unique side business. In 2018 he started sewing prototypes and in early 2019 he officially launched Doghoztoyz.
Surprisingly, Mike didn’t even know how to sew. However, he didn’t let this fact prevent him from pursuing this unique venture. His first toy prototypes were hand sewn, but he quickly realized he would need the strength and dependability of an industrial type sewing machine. “I’d never touched a sewing machine before and Sailrite came up in my searches for an industrial sewing machine. The instructions that came with the Ultrafeed LS-1 were very helpful, but even more helpful were [Matt Grant’s] videos. I came away, after watching the videos, a lot more confident that I could actually do something without either hurting myself or the machine.”
Mike does several things to prep the retired fire hose before turning it into dog toys. He thoroughly pre-scrubs the hose, if necessary, then machine washes it to remove all traces of ash and soot from the hose’s previous life. Once the hose is dry, he can then begin transforming it into durable dog toys. To punch through such thick and dense material, he uses V-92 thread and a size 20 or 21 needle. The Ultrafeed makes easy work of the tough material.
Where does Mike get the retired fire hose? “Initially I bought the fire hose from a wholesaler or got used fire hose from fire departments in my area. Ultimately, I located online auctions that dealt with government surplus and bought a pallet of hose.” This creative idea is a great way to recycle and reuse a material that has served its original purpose but is still entirely usable for other means. “Physical damage or failure to pass a water pressure test is the main reason fire hose is retired from active duty,” Mike explained.
The reaction to his dog toys has been very enthusiastic and successful. He tested his original prototypes on his own dogs, on the dogs of his dog walking and sitting clients, and even sent some toys to several rescue organizations. Needless to say, the toys received thorough testing and were found to be a big hit with the dogs. The toys are intended as “interactive toys,” Mike clarified, which means they are great for playing tug of war, fetch and catch. “While the toys will withstand ‘some’ gnawing for a limited period of time, that is not their intended purpose.”
Now that he’s got the basics of sewing down thanks to his dog toys, Mike looks forward to expanding his skills. “I did some masks as a response to the pandemic. It is quite a leap back, material-wise, going from thick fire hose to mask material. I had to really back off on the presser foot.” What other projects does Mike have on his to-sew list? Patio furniture cushions. Luckily, Sailrite has a project video for that!