Have you ever seen a dog in a wheelchair? Or a dog dressed up for Halloween? Or how about dog wearing a Christmas hat and a red Christmas dress on the occasion of December? If you are in The Philippines and spot a fully dressed dog in a wheelchair on the street, there is a good chance that wheelchair as well as the dress will be designed by Pernille Harboe, Danish dog clothes designer and permanent resident of Manila.
Samson – a trend setter
“You don’t shoot a person because they have an accident with their legs. Then why would you kill a dog just because it cannot walk? Asks Pernille Harboe? “There is nothing wrong with their brain or their spirit. It is just a question of how you take care of that dog,” she says. Through her company “Samson & Mom” Pernille Harboe designing clothes and other articles for dogs such as beds, transportable doghouses and wheelchairs. Her next step is to make a kennel in her own house where people can leave their dog while they go on holiday. “In the Philippines there are no such place. The only thing you can do is to leave your dog in a cage with a veterinarian. They only get out for ten minutes two times a day,” she says. Pernille is Danish but has been living in the Philippines for many years. Her career as a designer for dog accessories and clothing started with her late dog Samson.
“Samson came into my life in 1991. Everybody who has met him agrees, that he was something really special,” says Pernille about her former Yorkshire Terrier who passed away in 2005.
The first time Pernille took Samson with her home for Christmas she realised the need for him to keep warm. “I know that I feel cold when I travel from the Philippines to Denmark in winter and Samson had not had time to develop a winter coat. So I had not knit something for him to wear,” she explains. “Then one thing led to the other.”
Samson’s need for clothes to keep him warm soon developed into clothes for other purposes. “Once I was invited to a Halloween party in a resort and I just couldn’t come being all dresses up and then have him wearing nothing you see,” says Pernille explaining why she chose to make a Halloween outfit for Samson as well. “We had to match. Children here dress up for Halloween so why shouldn’t Samson be dressed up? He was my child,” she states.
At that time Pernille had a small shop in a bazaar where she was selling dog collars and other articles. “But people started asking for clothes and hats for their dogs,” she says. “It probably has a lot to do with Samson. Because they would see him wearing different outfits in the bazaar. That was how my business started.”
The demand for dog clothes in the Philippines keeps increasing. Together with the organisation PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society) Pernille has arranged several fashion shows for dogs and designed all their outfits.
“I made bathrobes, swimming outfits, evening dresses, and everything for about ten dogs. Pernille and PAWS practiced with the dogs for two month so they could show off the latest fashion on the catwalk by them selves.
“It was in December so for the final all the dogs where wearing Christmas dresses or Christmas Jackets and Christmas hats” she says, as she takes a sib of her coffee and then silently adds: “It was a little bit off the wall – I know but a big success never the less”.
Dogs on wheels
The idea of making wheelchairs for dogs occurred out of a sad necessity, when Pernille’s beloved Samson had an accident. He had a cataract and was operated on one of his eyes. “The operation went well, but unfortunately he could no longer judge distances,” Pernille explains.
“So one day he was on the balcony and he saw a cat. He just took of after it and went straight over the edge of the balcony. The fall compressed his spine so he was paralyzed in both hind legs.” To put Samson down was out of the question for Pernille. She only saw one option. “We just had to get a wheel chair.”
Samson’s wheelchair came from the US and consisted of two small wheels that got attached to the back part of his body. With this installation Samson was able to move around almost as before. “We did go though a period where he thought he could climb the stairs again, but apart from that he could run around and do everything as before,” Pernille says.
I know that this is not so common at home. In Denmark people feel pity for the dog and very quickly put them to sleep. But there was nothing wrong with him. How could I take him to the doctor and ask him to give Samson an injection? She asks.
Pernille saw Samson’s faith as an opportunity rather than a tragedy. “I kept asking my self –‘Why did this happen to us? There has to be a reason for this and there has to be a purpose,” she says. “That was when I decided to start making wheel chairs for other dogs.”
Together with a maker of wheelchairs Pernille develops the device to fit the individual need of every customer. “No two dogs can use the same wheel chair,” she sais. After three and a half years with Samson in a wheel chair I know what it takes,” she says. Today she makes around 15-20 wheelchairs for dogs a year.
Part of the family
According to Pernille the wheelchairs and the clothing for dogs help Philippine families to treat and understand their pet dog better. “Not everybody here sees the dog as a part of the family as we do in Denmark. They treat the dog as something you put away in a cage or the in back yard. But by dressing up the dogs a much better contact between the dog and the owner is established. The dog becomes more like a child and suddenly the dog and the phenomenon dog get a place in the living room,” she explains.
As the pet culture develops she hopes that her new kennel will offer a good alternative to leaving the dog in a cage when going on holiday. “In the long run I would also like to make a recreation centre for dogs where there could be a swimming pool and other facilities.” But although the pet culture in the Philippines has come along way, Pernille explains that you have to keep in mind that eating dogs in the Philippines used to be very common and unfortunately still happens.
“Through the dog clothes and the fashion shows People are starting to understand that a dog has a soul and if you work on it you can have an incredible friend and companion. But there is still far to go but we are getting there,” she finishes.