It all began when Roxie was a puppy. The now-4-year-old Chihuahua mix was rescued by Cathleen Powell from a puppy mill. Roxie had a broken tail, many health problems and not much fur.
“It was winter, and she was so cold she shivered,” Powell said. “So I went shopping to get her a sweater, and I failed. She’s just built funny. Nothing fit.”
That was all the incentive it took for Powell to drag out the sewing machine a friend had given her and try to make her dog an outfit.
Powell succeeded, and in the process she found out she liked sewing. At the time she was newly retired from the military, and she told herself sewing would be a great hobby.
“I made some baby clothes and some dog clothes and took it to the craft fairs,” Powell said, “and it was the dog clothes that always sold out.”
Now Powell, whose nickname from her military time is Max, runs Max’s Custom Pet Clothing at 1510 E. Francis Ave. Her store moved to that location last year, and she jokes that she follows the construction work on Francis.
“There was construction at my other location down the street, and now there’s construction here,” she said. Most of her customers find her by word of mouth.
The neatly organized shop is brimming with dog outfits arranged by size from extra-extra small to Labrador-size. The store also carries dog and cat treats, as well as toys, beds, strollers and other accessories.
“Most ready-made dog clothes come in just three sizes, small, medium and large,” Powell said. “If you have a dachshund, you may need a size small but long.”
Fleece is a preferred fabric because of its easy maintenance and multitude of colors.
Right now, camouflage patterns are really hot, Powell said, especially among men who may otherwise not like the idea of a dog wearing clothes.
“They like camo because it’s tough. It’s OK to dress the dog if he wears something tough,” Powell said.
A line of Western-style denim outfits with pockets and faux leather trimmings is not moving as fast.
“I don’t know why,” Powell said. “I figured people wear Western clothes around here all the time.”
Most of Powell’s customers come in to have something custom made. It can be a fleece coat or a sweater, or maybe a Halloween outfit.
What’s the weirdest dog outfit she’s ever made?
“I make a lot of dog bikinis in the summer,” Powell said. “I never really got that.” She has a small line of cat clothes, and has made an outfit for a chinchilla and a fashion harness for a goat.
“The goat was the guy’s pet, and he wanted to take it for walks,” Powell said. “It worked out great.”
She carries a line of rain slickers and also dog covers that are made like horse blankets. And belly bands for the male dog that can’t quite make it outside when it has to pee.
“I didn’t even know what that was the first time someone asked for one,” Powell said. “Now I have a lot of them. And dog diaper covers.”
Powell’s new dog, a Shih Tzu named Bobo, doesn’t mind being dressed up, though he has plenty of fur. That raises the question: Do dogs really need clothes?
“Some dogs do because they really do get cold and a sweater helps them stay warm,” Powell said. “And some people just dress up their dogs for fun. That’s fine with me.”