Marjorie Hovis' Gussied-Up Pups Prove That Putting on the Dog Keeps the Wolf from the Door

updated 06/13/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ever wonder how a dog feels wearing his birthday suit out in the rain? If the coldhearted response is, "He'll dry off," that's easy for you to say! It might be all right for a shaggy dog like a Saint Bernard, but how about those short-haired breeds, the shivering chihuahua and the greyhound—couldn't they use something heavier, maybe in shearling or denim, to fend off the chill?

A certain empathy for such canine concerns, along with a healthy dose of dog lover's solicitude, has prompted Marjorie Hovis, a 43-year-old mother of two from North Bend, Oreg., to come to the aid—if that's what it is—of her four-footed friends. Divorced in January 1982, Marjorie needed to make money to maintain her standard of living, and jobs were scarce in a coastal lumber town hard hit by the recession. Egged on by friends who had admired the dog coats she had sewn as presents, Marjorie got down to business and founded Pup E Luv, offering the ultimate in canine couture.

From the beginning Marjorie was aggressive in selling her doggie rags. "I made a few samples—a raincoat, a little sailor outfit, a Western coat, a fake fur—put them in Ziploc bags, and drove to Portland," she says. Phoning a pet mortuary for contacts, she was referred to the buyer of pet supplies at Fred Meyer Inc., a chain of self-service stores in the Northwest. "The buyer was excited and ordered thousands on the spot," Marjorie recalls. She then bought fabric, raced home, and immediately began stitching for dollars. A hired needlewoman helped her sew, while Hovis' adopted daughters Lois, 13, and Marjorie, 8, helped with chores. Filling that order was a frantic business. "At first I was trying to cut out the coats on the floor of the bedroom, but I was killing my back so I cleaned out the garage, parked the car in the drive, and put some glass shower doors on sawhorses. One girl and I filled that order in 58 days," she states proudly. But it was a near thing: "It was so close to deadline that I jumped into the pickup and dashed up to Portland myself. There was no time for United Parcel."

Marjorie pressed on, flying to Dallas after spotting a jogging suit for dogs in a Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. Decked out in a tuxedo and holding her pet "Peek-a-poo" (part Pekinese, part poodle), Bianca, suited up to match, she stormed into the prestigious store, sweeping past the protesting doorman. "I walked Bianca straight down the main aisle using her black velvet leash. People were falling all over themselves to see her," says Hovis. "I lifted her up so the people on the balcony could see and they burst into applause." From that moment on, Pup E Luv's doggie dinner jackets, retailing at $75, became a Neiman-Marcus staple.

Raised in Enterprise, Oreg., the daughter of a schoolteacher, Majorie married Ivan Hovis and moved to North Bend some 22 years ago. She remains friendly with her ex-husband, the manager of a boat-building firm, who doubles as Pup E Luv's business manager. "We're a great team this way," she admits.

Today, nine months after its first doggie coat, Pup E Luv employs as many as 29 women. Offering sizes ranging from a 10, for a Yorkshire terrier, to a 30, for an old English sheepdog, the company turns out everything from a white bib with the legend Classy Canine ($8) to a lined and hooded raincoat ($25) to a backless lamé evening gown trimmed with sequins and a feather boa ($60).

Sound fantastic? Maybe, but Hovis has given new meaning to the expression "It's a dog's life." "I asked the Lord to help me make an honest living so I wouldn't have to receive charity," she says. "This business grew so big so fast, it was almost more than I could handle."

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