by Teri Errico Griffis
Photos by Graham Cerceo
It’s an experience you need to see to understand. Watching dogs who were once chained to trees, now roaming free and safe, tongues and tails wagging, jumping around in a newly built, fenced-in pen. It warms your heart. And as rewarding as the experience was for the dogs, it was just as rewarding for those who personally built a new life for them.
Pets for Life is a program at Charleston Animal Society that has so far built three fences for Lowcountry families, the latest of which helped a mother and son on Wadmalaw Island this past November. Animal Control had been called out in response to two dogs and a litter of puppies running loose. It turned out the owners were overwhelmed and, hoping to help, the Sheriff asked Aldwin Roman, Anti-cruelty and Outreach Director with Charleston Animal Society, to meet with them. “They didn’t know about getting their pets spayed and neutered, and they didn’t have any transportation to get their pets to the shelter,” Roman explains. To alleviate some of their burden, the owners relinquished all but one of the puppies (which were soon adopted!). Then the shelter spayed, neutered and micro-chipped the remaining dogs to prevent a reoccurrence.
Roman regularly checked in with the family—but was disheartened to visit later on and see the dogs chained up. “The owners were trying to comply with the law and not get in trouble for having their dogs loose, but now they have dogs who were used to being able to roam free,” he said. “Obviously dogs on chains is not great for their behavior. It inhibits them. They get tangled.” The dogs also fought often in their new restraints. Determined to find a solution that would allow these dogs to be safe and still enjoy their freedom, Roman asked if he could build a fence.
“A fence gives the dogs the ability to roam and gives the owner a place to safely play with their pet without worrying about the hazard of a chain,” he explains. So Roman along with 15 other Pets for Life employees and volunteers came out to build the family a fence. For four hours, they measured, dug holes, placed posts, secured wiring and laid mulch (donated and delivered by Winthrop Tree Service on James Island). The 1,800-SF lot included three dog houses, overhead canopies for shelter, water and food bowls, and toys. It was incredible how the dynamic of the dogs changed the moment they ran free again in their new space.
Kristin Kifer, Outreach Specialist with Charleston Animal Society, originally thought up the idea of building pet fences and couldn’t have been more excited to be at the recent build. For her, it’s all about creating personal relationships with the families. “We help families so that they can become closer to their pets by providing them with a place to run and play,” she explains. “In turn, that allows us to establish a relationship with the family and we spend a lot of time in the neighborhoods getting to know the residents.” Kifer loves being a part of these families, and in fact, has been accepted into many of theirs.
“We have one client who due to a stroke is confined to a wheelchair, so every day we go by his house and give fresh water and food to his pets,” Kifer adds. “He loves his dogs and they are his life, so it’s important we keep them together.”
“There’s a consistency we provide for people being there each week, for the sake of the animal and the community,” Roman says. Ideally, he would like to host weekly builds—but with that comes the need for resources (about $800 in cost each) and volunteers. Pets for Life’s eventual goal is to have companies sponsor a build and come out to help.
Part of a Bigger Picture
Sometimes we’re quick to judge pet owners. They leave their dogs outside. They haven’t spayed or neutered them. We assume negligence, but often the reality goes deeper. Families love their pets, but not everyone has unlimited funds, proper pet education or access to necessary resources. Instead of removing the pets, however, Charleston Animal Society launched its Pets for Life program that seeks to educate the community and build relationships with pet owners so they can keep their pets—and keep them healthy and safe.
Pets for Life is part of a nationwide effort funded by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and in March 2014 Charleston Animal Society began their own program. “It’s a targeted, strategic outreach program,” says Roman. “We did an assessment throughout the entire county as far as population, estimated pets in certain areas, access to vet resources, pet stores, crime rates, average price of rent. We look at it all and decide where to target.” The Pets for Life Team started in the 29405 area code (North Charleston), with an end goal to set up additional programs throughout Wadmalaw, Ravenel and other areas in need.
“You start on one block and go to every single house and work your way out from that area. The concept is to talk to people about their pets, see what’s going on in the community and offer resources, to keep these pets out of the shelter and with their families,” Roman explains.
Would You Like to Sponsor a Fence Build?
Contact Aldwin Roman