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Lest American alligator lovers worry about the ethics of using alligator skin to make dog collars, rest assured: The gators are thoroughly protected. In Louisiana, the local government keeps the population controlled by giving each property owner a certain number of tags, one for each alligator they’re permitted to hunt, between September 5 and October 5. Wildlife regulators also go trapper to trapper, checking each number and tag to make sure it’s all above board. People are jailed and fined if they kill an alligator out of season or kill more than their allotted number.
“They’re just unbelievable creatures,” says Sandlin, who is proud to use the alligator skins, as they would otherwise be wasted.
The first Swamps of LA collars were all made from American alligator skin that was tanned; tanning prevents the leather from developing a feathered look and allows it to retain its quality longer. Conner and Sandlin get their material from an “alligator guy” in Grand Chenier, which Sandlin says feels like “the edge of the world.”
Of course, every skin is unique — the look and texture can also depend on the part of the alligator from which the skin is taken — and the two creators have the skins dyed various colors. In addition to pearls, Conner adorns them with alligator teeth that evoke ivory, often dipped in gold or silver. Sandlin’s Schnauzer, Sissy, wears a bright green one with two alligator teeth on either side and pearls in between. “The quality is unbelievable,” Sandlin says. “I let this nutty dog of mine wear this collar — we walk, she jumps in the pool and shakes. Of course, dogs will be dogs, so nothing stays perfect forever, but it wears beautifully, too.”
Because American alligator skin is expensive, Sandlin was thrilled to discover acid-washed cowhide while antiquing not long ago, which she says is pretty and durable. Now the women are creating dog collars from that as well, which means they can offer their customers bespoke collars at a lower price point.
The collars are currently for sale on the Swamp Dogs of LA website, as well as at Spoiled Pet Spa in Lafayette, The Louisiana Marketshops at the 115 in Henderson (where all stock is local) and at Groovy Dog Bakery in Austin, Texas. The women are expanding soon to a shop in North Carolina, too.
As they grow their stock to include, among other things, a leash and leader, these Louisiana natives continue to keep their work close by. “Everything is made in Louisiana, and we’re going to keep it that way,” says Sandlin. “We love the business, and we love our dogs. We hope to expand and keep it going.”
Seems like these ladies are barking up the right tree.
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