Warning: The following is an ardent product endorsement.
Each January, we publish a feature in WDJ called “Gear of the Year,” where we tell subscribers about the best dog-care and –training items we’ve seen and used and appreciated all year. In January 2021, one of our occasional contributors, North Carolina dog trainer Lisa Lyle Waggoner, wrote a glowing review of a dog bed called the Wash ’n Zip Pet Bed – a quilted bed that has a zipper along three sides. The zipper allows you to unzip and unfold the bed into a larger rectangle for easy washing in a standard washing machine – or to use as a larger blanket on the lawn, sofa, or car seat. I was sold on the bed just from Lisa’s description and from photos of the various covers and sizes on the company’s website.
We published the review and I guess a bunch of you ordered beds, because Stan Pelz, the owner of the company, later sent me a note of appreciation – and one of the beds to try out myself! Well, for my dogs to try, anyway. He not only sent me a beautiful extra-large bed, but a “Puppy Proofer” – a large slipcover-like cover for the bed that helps protect the bed from getting chewed by bed-chewing puppies.
My senior dog Otto really liked the bed; I put it, zipped up and covered with the Puppy Proofer, in his favorite spot to nap during the day, inside a door-less crate in my office.
Then, recently, I started fostering a litter of eight mixed-breed puppies. Otto’s favorite crate and the Wash ’n Zip bed got called into more pressing service. All the other dogs beds I have on hand are huge, deep, foam-filled beds – and when you have to wash a bed every few days, or even every day, because tiny puppies walk through their formula and wet food (and poop!) and then crawl into bed – the huge, foam-filled beds don’t cut it. Even though the covers zip off to launder, they are a pain to “dress” and “undress.” The Wash ’n Zip bed, though – wow! What a breeze! In the few weeks that they were using the bed, I washed the Puppy Proofer cover about eight times, and the bed itself just twice. The cover handled most of the abuse; none of the puppies’ crusty messes soaked through the cover. I had to wash the bed only when it got messy when the puppies were using it while the cover was in the laundry.
Then it was time to take the puppies back to the shelter for adoption. Now, I’m ALWAYS a mess on that day. The puppies have been cared for at my home ever so tenderly, and with an eye on enriching their social and physical experiences while sheltering them from becoming frightened or uncomfortable. Going from a safe, loving home with a lawn to romp on to a concrete-walled kennel in a building with more or less constant loud barking is traumatic for them, and seeing their fearful, uncomprehending little faces in the kennel is always traumatic for me. I know that they will adjust (and, in fact, they have), but if there’s anything I can do on that first day to make them more comfortable at the shelter, I do it. And in this case, it was giving them their familiar bed to sleep on. Even so, tears were rolling down my face as I left the shelter.
I was also verklempt because, on the same day I brought the pups back to the shelter, I was flying with my husband and our grandson back to the East Coast, returning that grandson to his mom near Boston and then visiting our other grandson in New Jersey. (Returning the grandson to his mom after a long stay with us is just as emotional for me as it is taking the puppies to the shelter, even though Liam doesn’t have to be left in a concrete kennel. We are going to miss him and hate saying goodbye!)
It was a whirlwind trip, but it was still five days before I was back home and could go to the shelter to see the pups, now available for adoption – and to look for the Wash ’n Zip bed. I was apprehensive, because I hadn’t alerted the staff that I would be coming back for the bed (I was crying too hard when I left) but I was confident, because of its washable nature, that it would be laundered and I would find it somewhere on the premises.
Maybe some of you don’t know how most animal shelters handle bedding. All shelters have a perennial wish list for towels and blankets to be used as pet bedding. When they get donations of thick, heavy pet beds, they accept them and use them – until they get soiled. Then, they usually go into the Dumpster. Yes, those giant $80 (and up) beds go into the trash once they get wet and soiled. If the dog who is using the bed is extremely house-trained and won’t go potty in the shelter, and the staff realizes this and the dog gets taken outside frequently, a big, thick bed might last the dog’s entire stay. More frequently, though, the beds get wet because the dogs have to eliminate in their kennels, and there isn’t enough room for the poop and pee to stay separate from the eating/sleeping area, or because there isn’t a good way to hose out the kennel without the bedding getting wet. Smaller blankets and towels get washed. Large, thick quilts or pet beds usually get tossed.
If the shelter is large or has a big budget, they may have commercial-size washers that are capable of handling thick or large bedding. Most shelters I’ve been in, though, including my local shelter, have just a row of ordinary washers and driers, which can’t handle giant blankets or beds. That’s why these things usually get thrown away when dirty.
You see where this is going. I had a joyful reunion with the puppies – who had all happily adjusted to their new environment, no longer looking shell-shocked – but couldn’t find the Wash ’n Zip bed anywhere. It wasn’t in any of the 64 kennels in the shelter. I looked in the shelter “kitchen” where the laundry gets done and dog dishes are cleaned. It wasn’t in any of the four washers or four dryers, nor in the stacks of clean bedding, nor in the shopping carts full of dirty bedding – and, yes, I did paw through all four shopping carts of poopy, wet towels and blankets that had come out of the kennels that morning and were waiting their turn in the washers.
I quizzed the staff: The person who cleaned the dog-adoption kennels on the weekend (right after I left the pups there) remembered the bed; she said she put it back in the kennel after cleaning the kennel, but the person who cleaned the kennel on the weekdays following said he didn’t remember a bed being in there. Most likely, it got wet (and/or poopy) and was put into the shelter Dumpster. Because of the Puppy Proofer slipcover, the staff member surely never saw that the bed could be unzipped and put in an ordinary washer! ACK!
I went out to the Dumpster to see what I was up against. It was full to the brim – due to be emptied later that day. It gets filled with not only wet dog bedding, but what gets cleaned out of all the cat litter boxes, and all the other garbage that comes out of a large animal shelter. Given that the bed had likely been discarded days before, several layers down in the Dumpster, and that I was not equipped with a scuba-diving mask, suit, and gloves I had to accept the fact that I had screwed up and lost Otto’s favorite nap bed – and an extremely useful one, at that.
Yes, the bed was a gift; losing it didn’t cost me a dime. But guess what? I loved it so much, it was SO damn useful, I’ve had to order another one – and they are not cheap! And they shouldn’t be! They are so well made, so versatile, so washable (even if this was not apparent to the shelter staff, alas), that I hate the idea of not having one here for Otto or any future foster pups. The extra-large size, with the additional Puppy Proofer cover and shipping, cost me $170 – ouch, that was a costly mistake! But that’s also how you know when a particular dog-care product is truly extraordinary – when you decide that no matter the price, you can’t live without it.