Dog days: Warm houses make happy dogs
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.