HOLDEN, Maine — Some of Maine’s best dressed and warmest critters have Sandi Rowe Umble to thank.

The retired registered nurse has made something of a name for herself creating and donating custom-made dog coats and animal blankets to shelters, rescues and animal orphanages in central Maine.

“I guess I just love animals, and my heart gets all puffed up when I see an animal’s story,” Umble, 71, said. “When I donate a jacket or a blanket, it’s because I just feel moved to do it.”

Umble did not plan on a second career as an animal seamstress when she retired from Eastern Maine Medical Center in 2008, but, as with so many of life’s unexpected turns, it was a case of necessity being the mother of invention.

“I always liked to sew, and after I retired I bought a brand new sewing machine,” she said. “We had these dogs and I could not find any jackets that worked for them [because] the velcro would always pull apart [or] they didn’t fit right.”

So Umble got to work on her new sewing machine designing and sewing tailor-made jackets for her small dogs. Not satisfied with the quality of velcro she found locally, she found an industrial grade velcro in Alabama that she was able to incorporate into her design.

“The more I made the more I was enjoying it,” Umble said. “Pretty soon, friends and neighbors were asking me for jackets for their animals.”

Whenever Umble, who is active on social media, sees an animal in need or reads a story about a rescue animal in the news, she quickly goes online to research the details and track down the owner or person in charge of the animal.

Once she finds the person, Umble reaches out to ask about the particular animal’s circumstances and to get some measurements.

Soon after, a special jacket or blanket arrives in the mail.

Among the beneficiaries of Umble’s sewing talents is Phoenix, the pit bull puppy who had been severely injured after being tied to the back of a truck and dragged down Wilson Street last year.

“I made him a blanket and sent it to the angel that took him in,” Umble said. “I was so happy to be able to give something to that dog.”

After hearing about the number of rescued cats that are helped by the Old Town Animal Orphanage, Umble put the on her list and three or four times a year heads over there to drop of dozens of special kitty blankets.

There’s even an elderly cat in Florida who sports a tailor-made, L.L. Bean-style plaid jacket Umble made after seeing a media story on the senior feline.

“This ancient cat was rescued by this wonderful woman,” Umble said. “But he was wearing this ‘onesie’ that really did not fit and just hung off him, so I sent down a jacket for him.”

In the fall she sews blaze orange jackets and bandanas for dogs whose owners want them to be able to run in the Maine woods safely during hunting season.

Dogs and cats aren’t the only recipients of Umble’s creations.

“Some people who raise goats in St. Albans asked me once if I could make blaze orange jackets for them,” Umble said. “But there were too many goats, so I made them all orange scarves, instead.”

And when her sister adopted a miniature horse from Florida, Umble whipped up a jacket to warm the animal against the unfamiliar Maine winter.

Umble estimates she’s made “hundreds and hundreds” of coats and blankets over the years.

“I think it is just awesome that [Umble] takes the time to do all this,” said Roberta Fowler, member of the Old Town Animal Orphanage Board of Directors. “It is such a big commitment on her part and it has to be a big expense [and] she really takes a lot of care and pride in doing this.”

Umble did say she spends a fair chunk of money every year on fleece, velcro and other supplies, but that’s fine with her.

“Every so often my husband will say something about it,” she laughed. “But I tell him I get far more out of it than I spend and besides, I can’t take it with me.”

Umble also participates in several craft fairs around the state, selling her blankets and jackets and donating some of the money to various charities.

“When I hear a story about an animal that needs help, I just send out box of clothes or blankets to the people who need them,” she said. “It makes me feel good to help somebody that is helping these animals.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.