Repurposing Household Linens For Fido, A “Tale” Of Recycled Dog Toys

You may have heard about “repurposing”, an environmentally sound production method of using leftover material from one product to create another. For example, you may have seen so-called “eco-friendly” clothing made from recycled bottles or even from other discarded clothing.

But have you ever heard of dog toys made from recycled cloth? Well, this is my repurposing story:

Back in the late 1970′s my grandmother created eco-friendly dog toys. These toys were sewn from old clothing and household linens. Grandma would spend hours cutting, stuffing, and sewing those toys and my dog, “J.L.”, and I loved receiving them.

I wish I could say grandma invented environmentally conscious pet toys, but I can’t. For quite some time country folks have created all kinds of amusements for their domesticated animals from leftover items. It just had to be animal safe. For example, I have seen horse toys created with a one gallon plastic jug and some rope. You simply hang the jug a few feet from the roof of the horse’s stall and the horse would bat the jug around with his head! (A good horse handler knows that a busy horse is a happy, less destructive horse.) You see, not every problem needs an expensive solution.

(In recent times we’ve all seen those videos of a cat playing with an empty cardboard box. Anyway, back to 1970′s and my grandmother’s creations… )

Grandma would use heavy cotton or flannel material to make a dog toy that would not shred or come apart when J.L. played with them. (It helped that J.L. only weighed six pounds!) They toys were usually white or off-white with simple patterns. Apparently, the home-made dog toys were non-toxic because J.L. lived to be nineteen human years old! That computes to about 100 – 133 dog years!

Generally speaking the designs were simple. One of Grandma’s more elaborate creations was a toy octopus. Well, if you used your imagination, it looked like an octopus. Made of heavy cotton, it had a square stuffed body with four stuffed legs, (yes I know an octopus has eight legs but four legs were larger and stronger). Created for “tug-of-war” play, that octopus was a beloved Christmas present.

Oh, and speaking of Christmas let me tell you about my dog J.L. and Christmas presents:

Like most folks with a modest income my family did their best to provide gifts for under the tree. During a good year we would probably have nearly a dozen gifts, each carefully hand wrapped at home. Of course, we would have several gifts boxed and wrapped, some purchased and some homemade, for J.L. too.

When we let him, J.L. would find and pull out each of his separately packed gifts, from under the tree with ease. That may not seem impressive as the “store bought” dog toys had been treated with a chemical attractant. The attractant would convince us gullible pet parents that our pets were enthralled with their brand’s products. The thing was that J.L. could find the boxes containing the home-made dog toys too!

For the longest time, we couldn’t fathom how J.L. could find Grandmas toys amongst that milieu. We began to think he had supernatural powers. Finally, it occurred to me how J.L. found those hand crafted toys. Grandma must have spent hours sewing them, touching and handling them, rubbing her scent on them with her fingers. Since a dog’s sense of smell is about 80 times greater than a human’s, all J.L. had to do was cull out the box that smelled like Grandma! After all, he already had enough Grandma-made toys to associate her scent with something fun.

There’s a lesson about the environment, green sustainability, and common sense to be learned here. You don’t necessarily have to rely upon an expensive, invasive, controversial, institutional solution to reduce waste. We don’t have to be a use-it-and-toss-it-out society.

Sometimes eco-friendly products come from a modest, loving family member with imagination, cloth scraps, and some basic manual skills who thought it was sinful to waste useable material.