The Fan Hitch Volume 11, Number 4, September 2009

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog
In This Issue....

From the Editor 

Fan Mail

Sled Dogs in His Majesty's Service:
Clark's Eskimo Dogs in World War II

Evolutionary Changes in Domesticated Dogs:
The Broken Covenant of the Wild, Part 3

British Antarctic Survey Sledge Dog
Monument Final Report

Tusaalanga: Learning Inuktitut Online!

In the News 

Book Review: The Inuit Thought of It

Tip: Removing Mats

IMHO: The Learning Curve

Index: Volume 11, The Fan Hitch

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Index of back issues by volume number

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Removing Matted Fur

by Mark and Sue Hamilton

All fur is not created equal. If you’ve owned many dogs with full double coats, or long-haired cats for that matter, you’ve probably observed that the texture and other characteristics of both the guard hairs as well as the undercoat can vary noticeably. Many years ago, in anticipation of the day when our Eastern Gray Wolf, Miranda, would no longer be with us, we took a gigantic bag of her combed out fur we had collected over many years to a friend who was a fiber artist. A bunch of "Friends of Miranda" sat in a circle in the artist’s studio each with a bucket of soapy water, attempting to make fur felt balls. Some were more cohesive than others, but none were well "knit". And when attempting to make hats out of Miranda’s fur (mostly undercoat but with plenty of guard hairs) some oily merino wool had to be blended in because Miranda’s pure wolf fur would not adhere to itself at all well. This is part of Mother Nature's design. It was probably a good thing that wolf fur (if I may be so bold as to generalize based on an n = 1) does not knot up very well. It would seem that a badly matted coat could end up being a serious disadvantage for any number of reasons for a wild animal.

The same would also seem to be true for working sled dogs, however some dogs with coats prone to tangling exist. We know, we have (a long ago neutered) one ourselves. Working dog owners also periodically need to deal with dogs whose coats are seriously fouled with a variety of burrs that grow in the underbrush. Bottom line, for those of us living south of the tree line cleaning matted fur and burrs from our dogs' coats is a reality we periodically may face.

Shaving, or even just spot shaving is not that good of an option. Not having the protection of fur, even during the summer, can be unhealthy for an outdoor dog. Coat rakes and mat splitters may work but there are some spots, behind the ears and in the armpits or groin, where the fur ball often adheres tightly to the skin. While these spots don't usually cover a huge territory they are locations where shaving is problematic because either the "terrain" is far from flat or the skin is ultra thin or sensitive. Serious skin damage from a clipper is a real possibility, and the need for chemical restraint is also a possibility.

Would you believe that there is a relatively common "tool" - about the dimensions of a thick business card and weighing less than an ounce  - that will easily reduce or remove the worst of mats and vastly reduce the stress to the animal in the process?

It's a letter opener!

Note that the thumb and index finger of the left hand are
protecting the skin from being pulled into the blade.

Inserting the pointy "arm" through the toughest mat is relatively easy. You just have to decide which way you are going to drag the device – either parallel to the skin or at right angles to it. Any time you draw the device parallel to a body part means you must be very watchful that you are dragging the blade across only the fur, without slicing across skin, too. The opener should be drawn through the mat parallel to the body only if your fingers are grasping the fur between the letter opener and the dog's skin that could be tightly adhered to the mat. But with attentiveness, injuries are avoidable. All you need to do is to know where the skin ends and the fur begins. In the worst cases, this may not be easy to visualize, but you should be able to feel the difference between skin rolling between your thumb and index finger as opposed to fur. Even if the mat is tightly adhered, it is better to leave a bit of mat stubble, just to be safe.

You may prefer to insert the point of the letter opener through a mat (again being cautious that you are not going through skin) and then gently pull the device at right angles away from the skin. Sometimes doing this to shred the mat is all you need to remove it.

Fur is notoriously damaging to a cutting edge.  Fortunately, these letter opener thingies are really cheap, maybe 50 cents to a dollar, and are sometimes even offered as a promotional give-away! So the next time you get one from your bank or insurance company, or some other establishment who wants you to remember their business by giving you one of these letter openers with their logo on it, don't chuck it in the garbage thinking your index finger or a pocket knife will do just as well opening all your mail. If you're really lucky, you'll get one of these with a magnet on one side, just perfect for being handily located on your refrigerator!
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