What started as a project to honor a friend has grown into an organization that is freeing chained dogs and building fences in Oregon and beyond.
Kelly Peterson belonged to a group of eight women who met every month to catch up over dinner and wine. One rainy Memorial Day weekend, one of the group, Lynda Pilger, was tragically killed while walking her dog. Lynda was a staunch animal rights activist and had befriended Kelly years earlier at a fundraising event. “Lynda was simply an angel on earth,” Kelly recalls. “We wanted a way to honor her.”
Kelly is Vice President of Field Services for the Humane Society of the United States. One day, she interviewed a woman who told her about a North Carolina group called The Coalition to Unchain Dogs. Its purpose is to build fences to relieve the suffering of chained dogs. “Her story literally moved me to tears,” Kelly says. “I was shocked that a group of people could make so much of a change in a dog’s life.”
Along with her friends, Kelly decided to start a similar project in Portland, Oregon to honor Lynda. They called it Fences For Fido (fencesforfido.org) and chose the Memorial Day weekend in 2009 to build their first fence. Another woman in the group, Andrea Kozil, had heard about a chained dog in a nearby neighborhood, and she and Kelly decided to approach the family as their first case. “We were just two women knocking on a door,” says Kelly.
“We had no literature or anything. When Keith opened the door, we just said, ‘We know you love your dog and we’re going to build you a fence for free over Memorial Day weekend.’ Thankfully, he gave us a chance to prove what we could do.” Kelly contacted the North Carolina group, who sent four of their members to help build a fence for Chopper, a six-year-old Lab mix who had spent all his life on a chain. “Once that happened, everything fell into place,” says Kelly.
What started as a city-based project to honor a friend quickly became an interstate organization. Kelly and her friends initially envisioned Fences For Fido as a once-a-month project in Portland, but it quickly escalated to its current workload of four to six “builds” a month, reaching from southwest Washington to points throughout northwest Oregon. “I’m not sure we would’ve continued had we not met some of the hearts of gold that we have,” Kelly explains. “They had a higher vision and it just became unacceptable to build only one fence a month. I would have never thought we could build six fences a month without sacrificing our relationship with clients and volunteers.”
But the individuals associated with Fences For Fido turned out to be extremely dedicated. The original group of women expanded to become a devoted band of core volunteers who perform outreach to new clients, organize builds and act as crew leaders during fence construction days. Hundreds of volunteers in four chapters now build fences, free of charge, for families with dogs living on chains. To date, the group’s efforts have relieved more than 130 dogs of isolation and despair, and Fences For Fido is inspiring interest in other parts of the country as well.
Volunteers perform site visits at least twice a year to ensure fences are intact and the dogs are still unchained. Neighbors who have an interest in the welfare of a dog may check up more regularly and report to the group if there are any problems. At least one volunteer has become a “fairy godmother” to a dog in her area, stopping by regularly to bring treats. She even hired a mobile groomer for an afternoon of pampering.
Fences For Fido is 100% volunteer-driven, and monies are raised through online donations, local fundraisers and grants. Each fence costs about $850, which includes the cost of materials and a custom-built dog shelter with a shingled roof and cedar-chip bed. Spaying and neutering are also offered free of charge. In some cases, additional medical care is provided for dogs that may have never been to a vet in their lives. Each fence takes around three hours to build, with a dozen or more volunteers pounding in fence posts, tying wire and tending to the dog throughout the morning’s activity.
The rapid growth of Fences For Fido has been very gratifying for Kelly. “What I really love is seeing the dog’s joy when he or she is released from the chain. I see that dog dancing around the yard, free, and that’s how I feel inside. There is no other place I’d rather be at that moment.”