Big, beautiful Buddy, an Australian shepherd, joined me in 2005, through the good work of the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline. Buddy had been a farm dog in Kentucky who had been given to the local shelter, apparently for reasons of his owner’s health and Buddy’s inclination to roam. As much as I have loved all my dogs, Buddy is special for his sweetness, good manners and magnetism to those who see or meet him. Everybody loves Buddy. But I learned, when I took Buddy to my mountain cabin at 7,600 feet in Wyoming, that he hates being in the direct sun. Buddy could walk and run forever in the woods -- we once went on a 24-mile hike in one day , and he was still bouncing at the end of it. Except I noticed that Buddy would run from one shady spot to the next, then wait for me, and I almost had to beg him to leave the woods for open land. With no other apparent reason for his behavior, it became clear that he just disliked the intense heat of direct sun. I later found out why.
I began to look for a way to reflect sunlight away without actually blanketing him and creating an insulating effect, which would create additional internal heat problems. I researched different types of fabric so that I could make something for him. I thought I had reached a dead end -- until I went down the solar-fabric route and found the material from which the Chillybuddy Cooling Jacket is made. Designed to shield greenhouses, this material is highly reflective while retaining the extraordinary ability to allow air to pass through. With some assistance I devised a very basic jacket lined with cotton mesh. The cotton mesh serves two purposes: first, it reduces the insulating effect of the infrared reflectivity of the material; and second, it can be dampened to provide a lasting cooling effect through evaporation.
A year after our first trip, I took Buddy and his new companion, Tater, a French Brittany puppy, back to my Wyoming cabin. This time we had the prototype of the Chillybuddy, as well as a Fluke reflective infrared thermometer. It turned out that Tater was just as sun-shy as Buddy. She served as a nice control for the testing, since I had not made a jacket for her.
Before I put the Chillybuddy Cooling Jacket on him, I made sure Buddy was just as sensitive to the sun as he had been before. He was -- he avoided it like the plague. Using the Fluke thermometer, I measured the temperature of the surface of his coat after a few (forced) minutes in the sun. The temperature, on a 90º F day, read 143º Fahrenheit! Though a dog’s coat provides some insulation from this surface heat, it also lies flat enough on his back so that the heat can significantly affect the animal’s comfort level and behavior. The Chillybuddy Cooling Jacket reduced that surface temperature to 103º F.
The next step was to test the effect of the dampened mesh liner. I soaked the jacket in water and put it on him. Within a couple of minutes, the surface of his covered coat dropped to 83º F on a 95º F day. The water dried slowly since the outer layer of the jacket provided a barrier to the direct sunlight, with the evaporation providing a long-lasting (and enjoyable) cooling effect to Buddy.
These results were repeated nearly every day of our six-week stay in the mountains, with daily hikes in an unusually hot summer. From then on, Buddy was always happy to wear his Chillybuddy Cooling Jacket -- even though he nearly refuses to wear any other kind of jacket or vest. More importantly, Buddy began to stay out in the sun as long as I was there. He would stand with me as long as I wanted him to, while Tater kept running for the shade.
The next stage of testing was to see how the prototype held up during many runs through the woods, sagebrush, creeks, rocks and other obstacles in the terrain of mountainous doggie playground. I found that the only thing that snagged the outer fabric was barbed wire. However, even those snags did not run or expand. Importantly, the structure and functionality of the Chillybuddy held up through all these conditions.
When I returned home to suburban Washington DC, I called a friend who trains two Bouvier de Flandres for Schutzhund competition. He is the most commited dog person I know or have ever known. With one of his dogs, we performed the same series of tests. At sea level his dog’s dark gray coat was 145º F in the sun but, with the Chillybuddy Cooling Jacket on, we attained the same readings I had with Buddy -- 103º F dry, 83º F dampened. As his dog lay in the hot sun with us, we realized the potential impact of this jacket. Not only were our dogs much more comfortable and protected from the sun, but we were able to enjoy the company of our pets even in the warmest of weather conditions.