Support Local Journalism


Mike Shontz sat in the West Paw production area on Monday morning with a pair of thread clippers — known as “snippers” — trimming the loose ends on masks the dog product company is making for Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

West Paw is one of several local groups working to alleviate the shortage of medical supplies needed to fight the novel coronavirus.

“We’re using the tools and processes we already have to fill an immediate need in the community,” Shontz said. “It’s a perfect fit.”

Shontz and two other West Paw employees spent Monday transforming the workstation where they sew dog beds into an assembly area for masks. Through trial and error, they learned how to use a system that Bozeman Health has approved.

“There has been a learning curve, but with all our products, we are always trying to improve quality and be more efficient, so this isn’t much different,” Shontz said. “Some people think of manufacturing as mindless, but it’s anything but.”

Typically, West Paw spends this time of year building its inventory for the busy season that runs from September to January. Instead, the company is only filling orders and has diverted the rest of its attention to mask production, said chief operating officer Scott Ogenka.

“We felt this was a great way to use what we have to help our community,” Ogenka said. “And we hope to inspire others.”

West Paw began making masks last week and completed 100 with donated cotton fabric. The company is now sewing donated materials from Mystery Ranch, which has cut and organized the components for 100 masks using leftovers from an old model of backpack, said Renee Sippel-Baker, Mystery Ranch’s co-founder and chief operating officer.

Mystery Ranch is also creating and giving 500 polyester-knit masks to Bozeman Health.

The company next plans to cut fabric, which has been donated to Bozeman Health, into pieces that are ready for West Paw and local volunteers to sew into masks.

“We have the necessary tools and equipment to help,” Sippel-Baker said. “This is affecting everyone, so it just made sense for us to step in and help.”

There is a growing legion of locals working to make medical equipment. The Montana Science Center is using its 3D printer to create masks using a design approved by Billings Clinic. The Gallatin Quilt Guild and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Livingston are among the dozens of volunteers now sewing masks.

Fatima Lucas, a former emergency room nurse, has stepped up to coordinate the volunteers, businesses and Bozeman Health to source materials, get masks made and ensure the final products meet the needs of health care providers.

On Monday, Lucas made several phone calls and drove around the Gallatin Valley collecting supplies. Among her stops was at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle for aluminum printing plates that she planned to drop off at Mountain Heating and Cooling where employees will cut the metal into nosepieces for masks.

“We’re trying to get as many people to pitch in as we can. And we already have all kinds of people making this happen for our community,” Lucas said. “I believe that we can work from the heart and fight this together.”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.

Recommended for you