Pup culture

› deborah@sfbg.com
Move over, onesie makers. San Franciscans are more likely in need of a dog collar than a baby outfit.
According to San Francisco Animal Care and Control, based on 2000 census reports, there are just under 118,000 canines in the city. The same census report tallied 112,812 locals 18 or younger.
Not surprisingly, pet product manufacturing is a growing cottage industry among Bay Area crafters. Shea Pet, a Santa Cruz company, helps keep Fifi’s coat shiny with its shampoos made from fair-trade shea butter; Berkeley’s Dorothy Bauer makes sparkling crystal bling in your pet’s first initial, if you like; and Red Rover in Marin bakes homemade biscuits in a variety of animal and Louis Vuitton handbag shapes.
Furthermore, a host of vendors will be present at the SF Dog Owners Group’s Dog Days of August picnic and celebration, an arts and craft fair for canines and their owners to be held in Dolores Park on Aug. 26 from 3 to 6 p.m. Helping to fill the pet accessories niche, at the fair and in general, is Ana Poe, the brains and beauty behind Paco Collars.
“Dogs are the new kids!” exclaims the lithe and garrulous designer during a visit to her subterranean Oakland studio. Upon my arrival, Poe, her handy assistant Jack, and three rather affectionate pit bulls, one of which had an unfortunate case of the runs, greeted me. The lean and handsome brown pit is Paco himself.
As a self-described “tool whore,” Poe became passionate about craft and animals while growing up in Sonoma County. She raised pygmy goats in the 4-H program for years and learned sewing from her mom. Paco Collars was born four years ago while she was working at Every Dog Has Its Day Care in Emeryville. She wanted a tough-looking collar for Paco, but, as she explains, “The only leather collars I could find had three-inch spikes — and people cross the street when they see him as it is.” Which seems unfair, considering Paco was a perfect angel in my presence.
The eye candy alone on the Paco Collars Web site is enough to make any doggy or kitty owner browse and shop online at length. Mushy-faced bull dogs, newborn pups, and the beckoning Siamese known as Pirate all don the 100 percent handmade leather collars that are Poe’s trade. And the animal handlers aren’t too shabby either.
But I digress. As the story goes, Poe decided to make a collar for her pit that looked cool but nonthreatening. She ended up studding a leather strip with Paco’s name, and her boss at the dog care facility liked it so much, she asked Poe to make one for her dog. She also encouraged the budding leather worker to put a few on display for customers. Eventually Poe decided to go full-time with her hobby, put together a Web site, and hired a handful of part-time employees, mostly other local artists. In the last year, her business has increased threefold.
All of the collars are made from Latigo leather, which is what pros use for horse saddling and is very strong. Paco’s been wearing his sheriff’s collar, sporting gold stars on silver conchos, for more than two years straight. Each collar is named after the animal it was originally designed for. Thus, the Celtic-design-inspired Gunther ($82.99) was made for a pit-lab mix while the Chickie ($45) was crafted especially for a Chihuahua, so that even little dogs can look badass. Harnesses and braided leashes are also for sale, as are special leash add-ons for training purposes. Humans can purchase a variety of wristbands and belts. Custom-designed collars go for about the same price as a comparable collar.
Meet Poe and check out her Paco Collars line at the dog fair or see the goods at George (2411 California, SF; 415-441-0564) and Pawtrero (199 Mississippi, SF; 415-863-7297) pet stores in San Francisco. Also, help raise money for Bad Rap (www.badrap.org), the nonprofit that tries to foster a better understanding of pit bull terriers, by attending the Living Room Gallery art show (3230 Adeline, Berk; 510-601-5774, www.thelivingroomgallery.com) — curated by the very busy Poe — and buying some pit bull–related art at the gallery’s black-tie gala Aug. 19. SFBG