Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Volunteers wanted to help unchain dogs

10/24/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser


Chained dogs are a really big pet peeve of mine. Driving by these helpless animals, I feel guilty that they must alternately endure Oregon’s relentless rain, the blazing heat of summer and winter’s freezing nights. They’re pack animals.  I can only image their emotional isolation as the rest of the pack gathers in a cozy house while they are left alone outside to suffer. I want to rescue them

For years, one of my neighbors chained their Boxer outside to a shed while a smaller dog was brought into the house. I used to snarl and gnash my teeth as I drove by and pondered what to do. Ultimately, the dog died and but during its lifetime, no one (myself included) approached the owner about the cruel situation.

Shame on me! But unfortunately, I think that my reaction to this situation is pretty common. I saw a need but rationalized that the dog had shelter in the shed. I didn’t want to start a fight with anyone. I just wanted to help. But where does one person begin? I was a coward.

Well, let me tell you about a Portland volunteer organization that rescues many dogs from a lifetime of being continuously chained, tethered and isolated. It’s called “Fences For Fido.” And its mission is to create safer and improved conditions for chained dogs. A couple of years ago I read about FFF in an edition of Spot magazine.

On the front page a large Rottweiler-type dog was attached to a huge chain. The article was titled “Un-Chained. One Dog at a time.” The mission: to get as many dogs off chains as possible by building fences, providing shelter, veterinary care and educating families how to care for their pet. 

The inspiration for Fences For Fido began after a radio interview aired with a North Carolina dog lover, Amanda Arrington. She and her friends started “The Coalition to Un-chain Dogs.” The group’s focus was simple—to get as many dogs off chains as possible by building fences. At that time, the coalition’s volunteers had built fences for nearly 300 dogs—free of charge.

Kelly Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States and her friends in Portland, inspired by the Coalition interview said, “We can do this!”  They contacted Arrington and four core members of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs responded with help. They flew to Oregon, shared their concepts and taught the new group how to build a sturdy fence for about $500.

Polite consideration for pet owner and dog are at the core of the service. Volunteers set aside all of their negative assumptions about the owners of chained dogs when they visit a family. They simply knock on the door where a chained dog lives and offer to build a fence, spay and neuter (if needed) and provide a doghouse—free of charge. As it turns out, most owners are happy to get their dogs off a chain and gratefully accept the help.

Twice a year, the volunteers also visit the dogs and two-legged family members to be sure that they remain unchained, safe and healthy. Through these contacts friendships are made and education is dispensed on how to care for the four-legged family members in different situations and weather.

FFF’s first fence build was for Chopper, described as a sweet, kind-hearted Golden Lab mix. He had been chained to a tree for six years while living across the street from a park. Once Chopper was set free in his own yard, Peterson said, “It was a moment I will never forget” as he raced around, smelling and marking his own territory.”

Chopper’s story and the efforts of a few women to save him from a lifetime of imprisonment, touched my heart. I looked around for similar programs in our area and couldn’t find any. At my age, the last thing that I wanted was another project but I wanted to know more about Fences For Fido.

So I contacted Peterson and one miserable, rainy day in March, my husband and I attended a bone chilling, wet and muddy, fence build in Albany. A beautiful Malamute dog was chained on a large corner unfenced lot. The owners were setting up a barbecue lunch for the volunteers. The excitement was palpable. Freedom was in the air!

About 20 eager volunteers showed up with tools and donated fencing material. They worked like a well-oiled machine. The area was sited under a large tree and measured approximately 30-ft by 60-ft. The project took about two hours from start to finish.

Finally, the volunteers gathered in a circle and the owners released their chained dog. At first, he stood there quietly, as if still shackled. Suddenly it dawned on him that he was free and he began a zigzag dance of happiness that brought tears to my eyes. He was free to run around, roll in the grass, look at the neighbors and yet was sheltered from harm.

Today, the FFF mission remains the same. Thanks to generous donors and volunteers they have unchained more than 235 dogs since 2009. You can read about their work and see all of the heartwarming photos at

I first presented this idea to readers of my Critter Chatter column in the Humane Society of Cottage Grove “News!” But the HSCG plates are full. Only three people expressed interest in the project.

So what do you think? Is there a need for this kind of program in Cottage Grove and Creswell? Do you know of a chained dog that needs emancipating? One that will spend the winter in the cold without shelter from the wind and rain or a dry place to stand...

 Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about going to the dogs—with a dog house and a fence. It will take a village of skills from fund raising to outreach to construction. Will you help?

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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