CUGA Vests: When Your Hardworking Dog Deserves the Best
Mark Meyocks, an avid outdoorsman and long-time USA partner through his affiliation with WelldyneRX, entertained youth and adults at the USA’s 2015 Get Youth Outdoors Day with a demo of his Labrador Retriever, Cruiser, retrieving bumpers to demonstrate a hunting scenario. If there is one thing Cruiser loves, it is to retrieve. Last year, Cruiser’s love of retrieving led to a hefty vet bill for Mark, but it also inspired Mark to develop CUGA dog vests.
Q&A with Mark Meyocks
Tell me about your dog Cruiser and the type of hunting he does.
Cruiser was my 60th birthday present to myself. When I got him, I had a choice between two dogs. I threw some bumpers, and one dog retrieved some bumpers but wanted to hang around. Cruiser caught and retrieved 30 bumpers in a row without fail. He was an amazing retriever from the get go, so he was my dog. His grandmother’s name was Tipper, and his dad’s name was Trouble, so I named him Tipper’s Trouble Cruise. We hunt pheasant and quail and a little bit of waterfowl. My true passion is upland game. Cruiser is a wonderful retriever; he handles very well.
My relationship with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance reinvigorated my passion for being in the outdoors and working with my dog. I relocated from Las Vegas to Yakima, Washington to spend more time in the field training and hunting and fishing. If I pack up for a road trip, and I’m not taking Cruiser, he is bummed. There is nothing like the special relationship between humans and their 4-legged friend, the dog.
How did your idea for CUGA dog vests originate?
We went hunting last fall in Eastern Washington. A lot of hunting these days is done in areas that used to graze livestock. Now the land is more agricultural with wheat and soybeans and things like that, so the fences have gone into disrepair. When you hunt, dogs often encounter not only natural vegetation like sticks, branches, briars and raspberry thorns that will cut or scrape them but also barbed wire, and it’s a real problem for hunters. Their dogs get cut up. That can become very expensive.
My dog got hurt. We had gone hunting, had a great morning hunt and still had a bag limit to finish. As we went to get out of the truck, Cruiser stepped out of his crate, and he had a hole the size of a silver dollar in the middle of his chest. I stopped the hunt and took him to the vet. The vet said it wasn’t too bad; it could be stapled together in 10 minutes. It was the second day of hunting, so I asked the vet if he could hunt. He asked if I had a vest. I said I had a neoprene vest. He said to put the vest on him, and he’d be fine. We hunt waterfowl with the neoprene vest. It has flotation and warmth, but it’s really meant for a dog that’s going to sit in a blind, observe where the downed birds go and then go out and do a short retrieve.
The next day, we went hunting, and I put the neoprene vest on Cruiser. It was about 52 degrees but because of the way the armpits were lined on the vest to protect his chest, he literally rubbed the inside of his front legs raw. He could barely walk, let alone do what he was naturally bred to do.
Why did you feel that similar products on the market weren’t adequate for Cruiser?
I looked everywhere for vests for my dog – Amazon, Pheasants Forever, Cabela’s. I ordered five different vests. They were all light, inexpensive, thrift shop nylon barely protecting the dog on the back or shoulders. They didn’t adhere well because it was Velcro strapped across the top. The dog can catch as it goes under fences. Nothing I found would protect the dog the way I wanted.
Tell me about some of the unique features of CUGA Vests?
When I went hunting with my dog this fall, we were in a lot of heavy cover. My dog has a black collar that we use for training purposes, but when hunting, I put an orange collar on him, so I could keep track of him. It was totally inadequate for seeing my dog. I knew I needed something with a good blaze orange component.
While in the Midwest, I visited my mom and talked to her about all the dog vests I had tried. My mom sewed a lot when I was growing up, and I told her I was thinking about making my own vest. I said I needed something with really durable material on the chest. It had to be breathable and waterproof, but it also had to stand out, so the dog can be seen. She asked what I was going to do about getting the corners, circles and bends. I told her I had never sewn in my life. She recommended bias tape, a material that goes around the edge and acts like a hem. So I researched various providers of bias tape and probably made 20 trips to a Jo-Ann Fabrics. I bought a sewing machine and went to Rockywoods Fabrics in Colorado, which sells fabrics for people to make backpacks and stuff. One material they had was a 1050 Ballistic CORDURA® fabric that was very sturdy and near impenetrable. It’s like a Kevlon infused material. I used that as the breastplate. It’s stiff, but it really protects the dog’s chest. They also had a 1000 Denier blaze orange camo. I bought those materials, blaze orange bias tape and the thread recommended by Rockywoods and went to work making the first vest.
In doing my research, I noted that the state of Wisconsin recently approved pink camo as a qualifying display color for hunters in the field, so I’m also making pink camo vests for the female hunters who would like something a little different.
Did anyone help you in the creation of the CUGA vests in addition to your mom?
The trainer I use has been training field trial dogs for over 35 years. His parents emigrated to the U.S. from Italy, and his dad was a tailor and his mom was a seamstress, so I got critiqued on my sewing techniques after the first vest. But I got ideas about how to make a better, more durable product.
By the time I had my first vest, it was December, and I went hunting with Cruiser and my best friend, Jim. My dog was running all over the place doing what he’s supposed to do. Jim said, “Man, I love that vest. Would you make one for my dog?” I went back to my dog trainer with the vest I made for Jim, and he critiqued it more and asked me to make about five of them for him. When my vet saw it, he bought one for his dog. I began wondering if there was a partial enterprise to be had.
My wife told me I needed to include Cruiser in the name, so we came up with Cruiser Upland Game Armor (CUGA). I was talking to the guys at the fly shop, who also guide hunts not far from me, and one of the guys introduced me to a patent attorney. So now the vest is trademarked in the United States.
Do you make all the vests yourself?
I am at the moment, but that is going to stop. My idea was that the first 100 vests would come out of my sewing machine, and I’ve already been in discussions with domestic providers in Washington State.
Do you make different size vests to fit different size dogs?
It is a custom vest. When we go to commercial production, we’ll have to have a number of different sizes because there are athletic dogs, retriever breeds, flushing breeds that would all benefit from the vest. We request measurements, so we know the vest will fit the dog. Not all dogs are athletic. With our vest, we are able to have a vest for the athletically trim dog, the young dog, the large barreled dog, the old dog, and it can protect the dog where it needs protected the most – the chest, sides and back. Like a knight’s armor, it’s not 100% protection or the dog wouldn’t be able to do its work. However, where they do get nicked up is fairly manageable. When we go commercial, we will probably have a selection of between nine and 12 sizes available based on chest dimension, front of chest, weight, the area around the barrel of the chest, the girth in front of the hips and the length between the nape of the neck and the back of the hips. The securing for the vest is 2” Velcro, and it goes on and comes off well.
Is the vest designed exclusively for upland hunting or can it be used for waterfowl hunting?
When you are upland game hunting, you are often in areas with water that birds hang around. Not all birds shot in the field go down where they are easy to get to, and sometimes they will cross water. This vest is a waterproof, breathable material. You can wash it and let it air dry. It’s designed for the dog to be able to swim, master a retrieve and go on hunting without any problem. Not everybody is a hunter, but if you have a dog that likes to run aggressively in the field, this vest will definitely protect it.
Is the vest too hot or too cold for different times of the year?
Any time of the year, you need to be cognizant of signs that your dog is overheating. The product is breathable, so if it’s 80 degrees, your dog can wear it, and it will breathe, but you need to watch your dog. Dogs won’t be much more susceptible to heat with the vest than without.
When and where are the vests available for purchase?
They are currently only available online at www.cugavest.com
How much do they cost?
Where would you like to see CUGA in 5 years?
In 5 years, I see CUGA having far more products available on the website. For instance, we have bumper stickers. Everyone who buys a vest also gets a bumper sticker. I used a union printer in Washington State. I believe in what labor does and what they represent to citizens in our nation and around the globe.