VANCOUVER -- Two employees of a North Vancouver vet clinic have created a specialized harness they say protects small dogs from big danger.

Alison Columbus and Janice Voth both work at the North Shore Veterinary Clinic in North Vancouver. They have seen many small dogs come in for treatment after being attacked by bigger dogs or wild animals.

So, they decided to do something about it. In 2019, they began designing a protective harness for small to medium-sized dogs.

“It took a lot of man hours in Alison’s living room. A lot of drawing, which we’re not very good at. But we managed to get it done,” says Voth, who is a veterinary assistant.

Their finished product is the PredatorBWear, a nylon harness complete with hollow plastic spikes strategically placed to cover the dog’s neck and back. The intent is for the spikes to deter predators from clamping their jaws on the dogs. The spikes are attached to velcro strips that can be removed to allow dogs to play safely with other pups.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of the spiked harnesses have, quite fittingly, spiked.

“A lot of people have been getting pets who didn’t have pets before. More people are out hiking with their pets. They’re walking them more than they ever have,” explains co-creator Alison Columbus, a registered vet technician.

The duo says their protective harness could help keep Metro Vancouver pooches safe at a time when many dog owners are on edge.

“With all the coyote sightings, especially in Stanley Park, and the cougar sightings right now, we feel that little dogs need to be protected more than ever,” Columbus says.

There have been several recent reports of coyotes in Stanley Park nipping at people walking through the park, and two dogs were killed last week in two separate cougar attacks in the tri-cities. Conservation officers are still searching for the cougars in the Port Moody and Anmore areas.

Wildlife advocates agree the harness could be an added layer of protection for small dogs, but say dog owners shouldn't rely on them. Instead, it’s critical that dog owners pay close attention to their surroundings, make noise while walking through forested areas, and even carry bear spray.

“Bear spray can be a teaching tool. It can save the life of you and your pet in those rare situations, and it also teaches those animals not to approach people,” says Luci Cadman, executive director of the North Shore Black Bear Society.

While it’s called bear spray, Cadman says the substance works effectively against all predators, including coyotes and cougars.

The PredatorBWear harness is now getting international attention, with Columbus and Voth saying they’ve shipped them as far as Australia and Israel. However, some dog owners are reluctant to give it a try.

“I think it’s more the look of them, that has some people saying they don’t know if they want it on their dog. But, why wouldn’t you, if it’s going to protect them?” says Voth.