Dog days: Warm houses make happy dogs

Stacey Norris delivers a new doghouse to Biffle the boxer in December.

Temperatures may be getting ready to plummet, but for 50 area dogs, winter will be a little warmer thanks to one woman's efforts to provide doghouses to outdoor dogs.

"Some people don't realize that a dog can't bear the weather," says Stacey Norris, a self-described lifelong animal lover who launched the HOWS Project (Houses of Wood and Straw)– a doghouse building and distributing organization– after coming across several outdoor dogs who needed better shelter.

With assistance from various local schools' shop classes, local businesses, and the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, and using blueprints originally designed for a similar doghouse building project by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Norris has already constructed and distributed 33 plywood homes lined with straw to help keep pups sheltered– most to dogs owned by residents of Southwood Trailer Park.

Seeing the poor condition in which many dogs live is difficult, but Norris believes the owners don't mean to be cruel.

"I'm not a big fan of ignorance or apathy, but some have a dog and don't realize what needs to be done to better that dog's life," she explains, pointing out that "nobody requires you to take a test before you can take on a dog as your companion."

Virginia state law requires that owners provide dogs with three-sided shelter with a roof and floor– but even if owners are meeting those legal requirements, the dog can still end up cold and wet. There is no law requiring that they ever be taken inside, and legally they can be permanently tied to a stake as long as the rope or chain is three times the length of their body.

According to veterinarian John Andersen at Monticello Animal Hospital, a dog's ability to tolerate cold depends somewhat on breed.

"Sadly, most are like hounds," says Andersen. "They're short-haired dogs, and most don't have an undercoat." Andersen says such dogs are about as equipped to deal with cold weather as a human outside in a long sleeved t-shirt or a thin fleece.

"It's still so cold that you're going to be pretty miserable," he says, "but is that going to kill you? No, as long as you get some reprieve."

According to Animal Control Officer Larry Crickenberger, extreme cold can put dogs at risk in another way– dehydration, when their water bowl freezes.

Virginia law requires dog owners to provide continuous water all day, and Crickenberger says dog owners should check frequently when temperatures dip below freezing.

Norris plans to deliver another 17 doghouses this month, and she hopes to extend the project's reach next year by applying for nonprofit status and offering, in addition to the doghouses, education to dog owners.

So far, she says, owners have been welcoming.

"I've gotten hugs and thanks," says Norris. And, no doubt, lots of licks.


very cool story, thanks for sharing and thanks to the generous souls who donate their time for the 4legged creatures we all love so much!

Unless it's a breed adapted to extremely cold weather, any pet owner who leaves a dog outside in 10, 15 and 20 degree weather should be stripped naked and handcuffed to a telephone pole all night themsleves! But I guess these dog houses are the next best thing since the telephone pole idea is against the law!

(I've had several dogs who refused to stay indoors. Norwegian Elkhound, a Siberian Huskie, and a thick haired Shepherd mix. All of them would wake me up all night long begging to go out and sleep in the snow and ice.)

Nice story. How can I help?

SOTLR is right - any dog owners who leave their animals outside in severe cold SHOULD be handcuffed all night to a telephone pole. Put them right next to PETA and the Humane Society, the folks who claim to be "animal friendly" yet argued (and PETA continues to argue) that Michael Vick's dogs must be put down - despite the fact that 47 out of the 51 animals seized have been rescued and are doing fairly well. Fortunately, the ASPCA and other dog rescue organizations prevailed upon the judge to give the dogs a chance. And even more fortunately, the judge agreed and ordered Vick to pay over $900k for the dogs' care.

Sliding off-topic here, but...of the 4 who couldn't be rescued, 2 died while in the shelters, 1 was euthanized for health reasons, and 1 was put down because of being violent. There's a great article in the current Sports Illustrated - if you love dogs, or if you were just horrified by the treatment those dogs received at Vick's "kennel," you gotta read the story. Of those vicious dogs, three are now certified therapy dogs, two more are in training, and six have earned Canine Good Citizen certificates from the AKC. And PETA wanted them all killed, and still does. Morons.

There's yet another one in the news now. Morons.,2933,354778,00.html

The real lesson here is action. Lots of people complain about problems in our community, others see a problem and then do something about it. Ms Norris is a genuine hero - kudos to her and others who have volunteered.

This story really started my year off right! Stacey Norris sets a wonderful example by actually doing something to help the animals without judging the owners! Good for her (and all of us and especially the dogs). I also completely agree with Music Lover about Vick's dogs. My pets have always been rescue cases, and some came with warnings--but I honestly have never had a bad dog. Most dogs just need love, patience(!), and understanding.

This is the nicest story I've read in a long time. Thank you so much, Stacey.

A very heartwarming story. How can I help? Please let me know.