Diane Ostergaard sewing kennel blankets.

Diane Ostergaard sews and donates kennel blankets to the CCVM teaching hospital.

Nov. 18, 2020
By Jens Odegaard

Mason, Saucy, Sid, Patty, Wolf and Carbon. Two dogs, four cats. Diane Ostergaard, 72 and a retired school librarian, lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Terry. Each animal has been a companion through the seasons of their joined life.

Mason, a Saint Bernard, was Terry’s dog before they tied the knot. “That’s almost why I married him,” Ostergaard said with a chuckle.

Saucy, a golden retriever, was the family dog when their son was born and then toddling around the house.

Sid was a stray cat the school Ostergaard worked at had adopted. She took him home on the weekends, so he wouldn’t be lonely. Eventually, a fellow teacher’s cat allergy prompted Sid’s graduation from school to full-time house pet.

Patty was her son’s calico cat until he left for college.

Carbon, a black shorthair cat, is the current pet. But it was his predecessor Wolf that connected Ostergaard to Oregon State University.

Wolf, a pitch-black longhair, was a “special cat,” Ostergaard said. “We had him for many years, and then he developed cancer and our vet referred us down to Oregon State.” At the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine’s Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Wolf was operated on in 2010.

The Ostergaards came down over the weekend to visit Wolf. “The staff took us back where he was in the kennel area to pet him, and talk to him and encourage him,” Ostergaard said. They noticed that the kennel bedding was basically cloth scraps. “And so I thought maybe I could do something,” she said.

Wolf received chemotherapy treatment and went on to live another two-and-a-half happy years. It was toward the end of his life that Ostergaard started making beds to line the kennels.

In the last eight years, she’s made close to 1,000. “The kennel beds are so important in keeping our animals comfortable,” said Tammy Barr, the hospital’s client advocate. “Diane and Terry light up when they talk about making them.”

It started small. One 30-by-60-inch bed at a time on a standard sewing machine.

Each bed is fleece top and bottom with a layer of polyester batting quilt stitched in between. It’s the perfect fabric because it’s warm, lightweight and doesn’t get tangled in claws.   

Not a lifelong seamstress, Ostergaard had picked up the hobby upon retirement. “Since I couldn't sew a very straight line with my sewing machine, I had to put painter's tape every four inches. And then I’d sew right along the painter’s tape,” she said. “So I’d go crossways and then I'd have to take all the tape off and then put tape going the other direction.” Ostergaard would then freehand decorative patterns as an extra touch. “It was lot more work when I first started,” she said.  

Today, Ostergaard turns out four beds at a time with elaborate patterns on a professional grade quilting machine. “I recently computerized the whole system,” she said. “You buy a design, and there’re cute ones. There are ones that have bones and paw prints and cats and dogs and so forth on it. You can buy those online and download them to your machine. And then it just goes from one edge to the other edge, and then you reposition. You just keep rolling up and keep going, moving through the fabric.” 

She stitches through so much fabric these days that the chain store Joanne’s Fabric and Crafts sent her a valuable coupon in a letter recognizing her as one of their best customers. Her scraps alone leave her “feeling like I need another room in my house, I have so much extra,” she chuckled.

It’s her memories of Wolf and his care at the teaching hospital that keeps the assembly line rolling, one cozy fleece kennel bed after another. “The whole reason I do this is to thank and acknowledge all the hard work, and love and caring that goes into what you do” Ostergaard said.