By Ray Stern
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Want to win friends and influence people? A waggish mutt milliner with the unlikely name of April Ode has just the cure: "Walk your dog with a hat on, boy, and people come flocking to you."
Ode, who does for man's best friend what Dr. Seuss did for cats in hats, laughs raucously. She enjoys her life as the Armani of the animal kingdom. After several years in the business, she still claims to have oodles of ideas. "I've got an imagination that won't quit," she says.
As it turns out, this may be one of the biggest understatements on dog's green Earth. Founder of a Lake Havasu company that answers to the name Hotdog/Cooldog/Packdog, the state's queen of fetching fashion is simply brimming with ideas for headgear for hounds.
"You name it, we've got it," says the 52-year-old haberdasher, who claims that her hats (which sell for $12 to $20) fit any breed known to man. Now available at pet shops and swap meets throughout the United States and parts of Canada, Ode's brand of mad hattery includes baseball caps, cowboy hats, sailor caps and the ever-popular hunting hat, a camouflage-colored chapeau festooned with a shotgun shell and miniature bird of prey (your choice of quail, pheasant or Canadian honker).
Cool in more ways than one, the foam-based hats can be soaked in cold water, helping Fido beat the heat on even the most sultry dog-day afternoon. But isn't there a strong possibility that Fido might get a little hot under the collar over wearing a hat? "Maybe one dog in 200 won't wear it," Ode explains. "But people start making a big fuss and the dogs just eat it up. Right away, the dog connects the hat with the attention he's getting."
According to local Park 'n Swap concessionaire Darvin Harmon, Ode's Phoenix distributor, the attention can even lead to a new leash on one's love live: "I've had a lot of single guys say they've met more women in the park with these dog hats than they have in any bar." That might explain why Ode's been dogged by requests for her gold-lame-and-lace wedding hats. "We get people calling us all the time for that one," she laughs. "I still can't believe it--people putting dogs in a wedding."
For Ode, dogs and duds turned out to be a marriage made in heaven. A longtime dog-fancier, she hitched her wagon to the gravy train after a nine-year stint supervising the production of flags, smocks and butcher aprons as an employee in the California prison system.
"I was sitting at a dog show one day," she recalls, "and things were pretty slow so I said, `I'm going to make my dog a hat.' My boyfriend said, `Why don't you leave that damn dog alone? You're always putting stuff on him.' I told him to shut up. You see, I'd invented a dog vest about twenty years ago and he told me the same thing back then. But I was stupid then and I listened to him."
Today, April Ode practically pants with enthusiasm over new products--some of them based on old ideas. Concerned that her dog might die of heatstroke during one of her dove- hunting expeditions, Ode developed the "cool-dog vest"--now one of her biggest-selling items. It's a backpack-style garment outfitted with side pockets capable of holding ice packs, hunting supplies or cold beverages. Besides doubling as a cooler-on-legs, the vest (which sells for $35 to $55 and is available in both "six-pack" and "twelve-pack" sizes) also can be used as a life jacket when flotation devices are inserted in the pockets. Straps on the back of the vest enable Fido to buckle up for safety on the drive home. The canine couturiere's own ride to success has not been smooth. Complaining about knockoff artists who've hopped on her tail, she says, "I'd be rich if I could get all these people who are stealing and infringing on me stopped." And while she says she's got several other new tricks up her sleeve, Ode's keeping a muzzle on most of them until they get their papers past the patent office.
In the meantime, Ode's attracting woof whistles with her latest promotional stunt. "I have a little dog, a smooth-coated Jack Russell terrier and you're going to be seeing a lot of him," she promises, describing how the pooch (named Prince) "drives" around dog shows in his own remote-controlled miniature Corvette. "I bought some sequined stuff and I'm going to make him some Elvis Presley and Liberace outfits. I even made a little sign: `Spuds McKenzie, eat your heart out! Here comes Prince.'"
"I've had a lot of single guys say they've met more women in the park with these dog hats than they have in any bar."
"My boyfriend said, `Why don't you leave that damn dog alone? You're always putting stuff on him.' I told him to shut up."
BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON THE REGENTS IS TH... v6-13-90