Please Fence Me In

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  –  Margaret Mead fenceproject1

You never know when a bit of internet surfing can turn in to a mission.

Eric DeTemmerman was surfing YouTube one day when he stumbled across videos posted by the Coalition to Unchain Dogs.

“They’ve done hundreds of builds,” said Eric, referring to the group’s mission to build fenced enclosures for dog owners who had previously relied on chains to contain their pets. “I sat and watched like 50 of them.”

These videos moved him. He laughed. He cried. He smiled. Then he said to himself, “I’m gonna do this.” And he did.

Eric sat down and wrote a 50-page business plan, then he found a dog in need and raised $500 to finance the build. He thought he might do three builds. That was two years and 50 builds ago.

So on almost every weekend from March through October, there is a “build.” A “build” is the act of clearing the yard, building the fence and prepping the dog. It requires a lot of hands on deck, so Eric sends out a Facebook message and counts on at least 15 volunteers to show up. And they do. One recent weekend, I did. And what a site I found.  

1053FenceProject3Rosa, a lovable 40-pound mutt, had been selected for this build. She had been chained in a trashy backyard. A household of young parents with at least four kids under age 10 had left little time for Rosa or the yard.

Then the volunteer team descended. Within an hour, all the trash was picked up and tossed in a truck. The weeds were gone and the home’s skeleton of a porch had a new roof.

T-posts were spaced and the post setters got to business, hammering the posts in the ground. Fencing was measured and laid out. Gate assembly began. While the fence went up, the doghouse was decorated and fitted with a cozy mat and bed.

Treats were sprinkled, a little pool brought in. The fence was stretched and, with a volunteer at each post, everything was zip-tied tight.FenceProject2

After the lock was set, the pool filled, and the doghouse positioned under the new porch roof, Rosa emerged fresh from her appointment in a mobile grooming salon.

FenceProject4Then the moment that makes it all worthwhile: Rosa was released in her newly fenced yard. Happiness sprang through her legs as she played, chased a ball, jumped in and out of the pool, found her treats and loved up everyone on site. If you want to see a truly joyful, grateful animal, find an opportunity to watch a dog that just got a yard after life tethered on a chain. It warms your heart! And in this case, the kids were just as happy. The family obviously loved their dog, and Rosa loved them. That was clear.

Donating a few hours (we were done by 1 p.m.) to clean up a yard, build a fence and become part of the team that creates so much happiness beats just about any other way I could have spent that time.

You should know that my fence-building skills are nothing to brag about. I’m not strong enough to set posts or artistic enough to decorate the doghouse, but I can pull a zip tie with the best of them. I tightened all the gate clamps, then learned how to extend the bottom of the fence to prevent Rosa from digging out. Apparently, I’m also good at sprinkling treats. If I can make myself useful, then you can, too.

The true payoff was watching how joyful Rosa and her kids were once we were finished. It was mesmerizing. We all just stood there for the longest time with dopey grins on our faces as we watched them play. We said “awwww” a lot.

Eric leads this Des Moines group, but he isn’t alone in his quest to liberate chained dogs. I’ve listed several Midwest groups that would love to talk to you about donating a few hours:

Eric’s group in Des Moines: