Thursday, April 25, 2024

Let sleeping dogs lie in comfort

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Barbie Cassidy shares the origin story of the knopped wool dog beds that took over her life.
Barbie Cassidy with Campaign for Wool’s Tom O’Sullivan. Photo: Supplied
Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Barbie Cassidy

When I started making V.I.P. Dog Beds for Very Important Pets I was carried away with excitement, having just discovered knopped wool. 

This is second-shear strong wool, usually Romney Cross, that is run through a centrifugal force to form little balls.  

My husband Garth was chair of the Port of Napier at the time and had a transport business in Waipukurau. We had a small farm on the outskirts. 

When I read about the knopped wool made by Stewart Tucker of the Clive wool scour, which was being used as home insulation by Phil Collins, I rang both men to congratulate them.

Phil was pleased to be noted and kindly hopped in his car and delivered me a gift of two big bags of knops.

I was touched, and grateful for the kindness but had no idea what I would do with it.

Later that week I visited John and Phillipa Falloon, in Wellington, with two friends. 

John, who was minister of agriculture at the time, had become a firm friend since, mercifully,  beating my husband to be the National Party MP for the Pahiatua electorate. As we watched the Falloons’ hard work and life at Parliament evolve, we knew we had dodged a bullet.

Phillipa was unwell and their friend in London, Lord Sam Vestey, had sent two gifts from Harrods: a white nightie and a wee high-sided, round dog bed. 

I thought it was a lovely protection for their little Highland terrier, and said to John, “This is a great idea, but made of synthetic crap. You as minister of agriculture and me as a wool nut should make them in New Zealand with real wool filling.”

At breakfast the next morning, John said: “I’ve been thinking about it all night. Of course I’m too busy. YOU do it.”

After dropping off my friends I got home at 3am and sat at the kitchen table for hours, making plans. I was with saddler Neil Sloan by 8am, and together that day we made the frames for a Size 5 Labrador bed and a Size 2 terrier bed, and I set about hand-sorting the wool knops to fill them. Luckily for me, Garth was away at a three-day conference in Nelson or it would never have happened. 

That was 32 years ago, and until Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr said the word “recession” there were very few days without orders.

I was farming our small block then, and this changed my life. Children and grandchildren have never known me not rabbiting on about wool. Garth organised a two-day wool exhibition in Napier with all sorts of amazing wool-based innovations on show.

This wool is incredible. It retains its bulk, does not flatten and does not smell.  

The wool moves just enough in the inners to give a bit of a massage to dogs’ joints. The covers are washed as frequently as needed, being thick cotton, but the inners never are. A fresh-up in the sun is all that is required. 

Massey University Veterinary Clinic helped me market the product by having two beds  in the waiting room for some years and told me that we could expect a dog to have about two extra working years if they were on a wool bed, helping subdue the pain of arthritis or preventing it from developing.  

Mostly my advertising has consisted of putting an extra brochure in with each order so it can be shared with friend or vet, and they certainly have been passed on to keep me busy, and purring with the fabulous letters I get. 

I give beds as a present to Guide Dogs for the Blind as I can, usually a metre-square Mutt Mattress, which is a normal Labrador size.

I am noticing now that many of the orders are repeats from people who have had the beds for 20 years or more, often wearing through covers while the bed remains in good order,

My Irish son-in-law, Brendan O’Connell, the CEO of AgriTech NZ, made me a website, vipbeds.co.nz, and there is a little Facebook page I have no idea how to manage, but I appreciate people sending their photos and comments. 

So many lovely rural people have helped me with sewing covers and doing saddlery, so we feel like a family.

Two people have told me of their woollen dog bed suppressing fires.

One day about 30 years ago I was sorting knops in the shed and put the discards that were not fully formed balls in a sack, and my Labrador moved onto it. 

That was the start of the working-dog beds. I put about 4kg of long fleece wool – not knops , as I want these to flatten for kennels – in a sack. Then I sew it up, pull another sack on, sew again, add a name at no charge if required and send it out in a plastic bag with an extra sack to have up the sleeve for re-covering in the years to come. I call them Tough Stuff. 

The nest beds filled with knopped wool are known as V.I.P, the square and rectangular mats are Mutt Mattresses, and we make two varieties of Pillows for People: large Oxford-size pillows for the bed, in four weights, are V.I.P. Pillows for Very Important People and come in good-thread-count cotton with an extra pillow slip as an under-slip. The wool deserves 100% cotton to allow it to breathe. No nasty polyester is allowed.

Small pillows are V.I.P. Pillows for Very Important Passengers, and are great fun, being made in a variety of craft cottons for every member of the family. They go everywhere, easy to pack or carry on the swing tab around your wrist. From Granny in hospital to a child in a car seat, between the legs after a hip transplant, camping or as corporate gifts, they are most popular. 

For $42.00 you can give a lot of pleasure. Go to bed, thank the sheep and start counting them, but you will not count many. Wool is deliciously soporific.

This story was submitted by a Farmers Weekly reader. Find out how you can share Your Story here.

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