Local groomer helping in Gulf oil spill clean-up

Michelle Brown, owner of The Shaggy Shack in southern Huntington County, grooms a dog in her shop on Monday, May 3. Brown is collecting excess animal and human hair as well as pantyhose to send to the Gulf Coast to help clean up the oil spill.
Michelle Brown, owner of The Shaggy Shack in southern Huntington County, grooms a dog in her shop on Monday, May 3. Brown is collecting excess animal and human hair as well as pantyhose to send to the Gulf Coast to help clean up the oil spill. Photo by Matt Murphy.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began April 20 has already reached some coastal areas along the Gulf and is expected to reach other areas, including a number of wildlife refuges, within the next few weeks, says the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency in charge of the response to the spill.

Various state and private organizations have teamed up in the effort to protect the Gulf shoreline, placing miles of oil containment booms from Louisiana to Florida.
The spill has the potential to affect anything and everything from gas prices to the seafood industry to the cost of everyday goods as travel through the area is disrupted (The Port of South Louisiana is the busiest in the U.S., and eight of the 15 busiest ports in the country are along the Gulf Coast).

While the spill is nearly 1,000 miles away from Huntington County, the environmental emergency has inspired one local woman to lend a hand in cleaning up the mess.

Michelle Brown, owner of The Shaggy Shack Doggy Day Spa near Lancaster, is collecting both human and animal hair to send to the Gulf Coast for the assembly of booms to protect the waterfront.

"This is something I can do to help the environment," Brown says. "But I can't do this all by myself."

Brown is collecting all kinds of hair, pantyhose and monetary donations to send to affected areas. Both new and used pantyhose is accepted, as hair is placed inside the hose to make a boom.

"Hair can soak up so much oil," Brown says.

Brown noted that the hair can also be thatched into mats that are placed on the bottom of cages for animals that have been covered in oil. Those mats have the same effect as the booms in removing oil from the animal's body.

All monetary donations Brown collects will be used only for shipping the hair. She says she is creating a separate bank account for the money, and all extra funds after the spill is cleaned up will be donated to Excess Access, a non-profit small business which is coordinating the shipping.

Lancaster Elementary School students have been helping Brown in the effort, gathering pantyhose to donate to relief efforts.

Julie Shearer at Lancaster Elementary says that the school just had its kick-off for the collection period on May 5.

"We talked to the student council kids about it and they were really excited," Shearer says.

The students have until the end of the year to collect the pantyhose, after which Brown will send it to the Gulf Coast.

Brown notes that she had been donating excess dog hair from her business to Excess Access for a number of years for other oil spills around the world, but a restructuring of the organization's distribution system, combined with the Gulf Coast disaster, allowed shipments of hair to flow freely once again.
"I've probably shipped six boxes recently," Brown says.
Brown says that as of May 6, 450,000 pounds of hair has been shipped to the Gulf Coast from all 50 states and several countries. As for Huntington County, Brown is asking dog groomers, salons, farmers and everyday citizens to help as much as he or she can.
Hair can be collected in trash bags, and Brown can arrange to pick up the hair.

Monetary donations can be made in two ways: either by check to Excess Access/Shaggy Shack, or by picking up a box of hair from Brown and shipping it as a free-will donation.

The spill "does affect us all," Brown says. "It's hard to grasp when we're surrounded by farmland and a nice community, but from 850 miles away, we can help."

To contact Brown about donating supplies or money, or for more information, call The Shaggy Shack, located at 3727W-400S, at 468-2506.

To learn more about Excess Access or its parent company, MatterofTrust.org, visit www.excessaccess.com or www.matteroftrust.org.