Shedding for a Great Cause!

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Austin group seeks ‘slightly disgusting’ world record: biggest furball

By Andrea Ball – American-Statesman Staff

Shedding is the bane of any dog owner’s existence.

Statesman May 12 furball

Getting a start on the World’s Biggest Fur Ball – Your Turn!

White hair on a black blazer. Black hair on a white skirt. Hair in the carpet, in the car, on the couch, under the bed, in the corner of the floor you forgot to clean. Vacuum and brush all you want. It’s always there, lurking, hiding, waiting. It’s in seemingly endless supply.

And Sheri Soltes wants it.

On May 17, Service Dogs — a 26-year-old nonprofit that trains and provides for free dogs that help people with hearing or mobility challenges — will try to beat its own record for the world’s biggest fur ball. It’s part of the nonprofit’s 16th annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk, an annual fundraiser in which thousands of people and dogs will stroll around Palmer Events Center, then head inside to check out new dog products, free goodies, entertainment and prizes.

Soltes is always trying to bring in the crowds not only with the promise of fun, but with calls to break different Guinness world records.

For a few years, Service Dogs held the world record for the biggest dog walk. But then a group in Northeast England started boasting bigger numbers as part of a festival in which pet owners can walk their dogs during the all-day event, which is unlike Austin’s set-time stroll.

“They cheat, and we were never going to catch up with them,” Soltes said.

So 2012 was a big year for chasing and capturing Guinness records, Soltes said. Their records include:

  • Most dogs doing doggie yoga (450)
  • Most dogs eating the same treat (238)
  • Most dogs simultaneously wagging their tails (238). This is directly related to the treat thing.

And then there’s the fur ball.

In 2012, after years of hearing snarky jokes about how the Texas Dog Walk could set the world record for the biggest “fur tumbleweed,” the Service Dogs team playfully fought back: You want dog hair? We’ll give you dog hair. We’ll make the world’s largest fur ball.

First, they had a giant clear plastic bubble (officially called the Fur-O-Sphere) custom-made for the event. Then they got groomers and pet lovers to save their dog hair in bags. Service Dogs encouraged people to brush their pets at the Mighty Texas Dog Walk, then walk down a red carpet and deposit their offerings into the Fur-O-Sphere.

“It’s simple, it’s visual, and it’s slightly disgusting,” Soltes said. “People love that.”

At high noon, 10 volunteers hauled the ball onto a big veterinary scale, Soltes said. All of this was documented through the video, paperwork and witnesses required by Guinness, Soltes said.

In 2012, there was 201 pounds of fur — it was a world record! It wasn’t hard. They introduced the category to Guinness.

Sadly, in 2013, Service Dogs failed to beat their own record by about 20 pounds, Soltes said. This year, they’re working harder to connect with groomers and dogs owners, who have some serious dog hair on their hands. The hair will likely be donated to the Coast Guard, which uses it to clean up oil spills.

Groomers at Mud Puppies have already stockpiled eight garbage bags of hair for the fur ball, said shop owner Edward Flores.

“It so unique,” he said. “It’s so Austin, and why not be a part of something keeping Austin weird?”

In any contest, there’s the possibility of cheating. What if someone secretly dumps cat hair into the bubble?

“We’re on the honor system,” Soltes said. “I’m not doing to do a DNA analysis on each bit of dog fur.”