Living In, and Out, of Chains

Imagine being locked down in a tiny space your entire life, chained, 24 – 7, to a post. Your entire world is a tiny patch of hard ground. Standing, lying, pacing, always lugging the relentless weight of the chain.

The very image is appalling, yet sadly, countless dogs live their entire lives in those very lonely and unnatural conditions.

My heart always aches when I see these social, active creatures chained and alone. This past spring I decided to do something about it and signed up to volunteer with Fences For Fido, an all volunteer organization that raises money and supplies to build fences for dogs who are living on chains.

My first fence build was in March in LaPine. The goal was to free two Blue Heeler types and a young black lab mix. I dressed in fleece and layers as it was cold that day. The welcome, however, was warm.  Central Oregon Director, La Donna Sullivan, flashed her bright sunshine smile and guided me to Sue Wente, dark-haired, hard working and quiet, but with a delightful dry sense of humor.

A team of ten or so men and women pitched in, some pounding metal fence posts into the ground; some bending and stapling wire, others building gates and dog houses. Sue, in addition to training volunteers, also functions as the DJ providing an assortment of upbeat music. Many of us boogied down as we pounded stakes and fastened wire.

We built the fence right around the trees the dogs were chained to. Snow began to fall, heavily, covering everything in white. When the powdery flakes turned to driving hail someone shouted, “Well, we are having a hail of a good time with Fences for Fido!” We laughed and kept working.

Soon, the fence was complete and it was time for unchaining. The dogs raced around the yard, sniffing, rolling in the snow, and chasing tennis balls. They were joyous as they moved freely, burned off pent up energy and interacted with one another free of chains for the first time in their lives. The family members thanked us again and again.

I was hooked. I knew I had played a part in making lives better that day – both for dogs and their humans.

Fences For Fido started in 2009 in Portland, when a small group of volunteers decided to do something to help a neighborhood dog in a desperate chained situation. Since then FFF has freed over 1,150 dogs and spread into southwest Washington and central and coastal Oregon.

Martha Nordbusch of Prineville and La Donna Sullivan of Bend founded the Central Oregon FFF crew. Both women have day jobs, sometimes more than one, and full and busy lives, and yet they devote significant time and talent to the Fences For Fido cause. La Donna explained why:

Because I believe dogs should have a yard, a safe place to run and play. I do it because I want the dogs to be able to stay with their families and dogs on the end of a chain are fearful sometimes causing them to get aggressive and jump up and make it hard for people to get really close to them. When a dog has more freedom it can better learn how to interact and be more part of the family. This way they receive the love they crave and the family gets to more fully experience the love from their dog.

The second build I volunteered for was even more gratifying. The crew met at a modest mobile home in Warm Springs. Two pitbull-type dogs and one chow mix were staked to posts by heavy, thick chains. All three were friendly, though the young black and white male was very shy. The red, shaggy-furred chow mix was overjoyed by our attention but could only move a few feet in any direction because his chain was twisted and knotted.

Over several hours we completed three contiguous fences, one for each dog. Within moments of being unchained the timid young dog was more confident and animated, approaching us through the fence for a sniff and a treat. When we released the big red dog, for the first minute or so, he moved like a gaited horse, lifting his front legs high into the air, in an exaggerated prance, as he adjusted to being free from the terrible weight of the chain he had dragged for years. Once his stride normalized, he settled into his new digs and tore around tossing his new rope toy high into the air. His joyous transformation brought tears to my eyes.

As co-founder, Martha Nordbusch explained, the benefits go far beyond the dogs and owners:

What we have found is that freeing a dog from a chain creates a ripple of positivism that expands well beyond that one dog. We received a letter from a member of the community who put it this way, ‘Those two dogs have been chained for a long time and have been breaking my heart every day. Their eyes seemed to be begging for my help. This afternoon we drove by and both dogs had new fences and they were both running and jumping around!! This makes me so happy!!!!! My eyes have been crying ever since because I am just so happy to see those dogs free from their chains. Thank you so much for helping our neighbor dogs. You have helped me too because my heart won’t have to break every day when I drive by those dogs.’

Central Oregon Fences For Fido recently celebrated their 100th build, and the release from chains of over 250 dogs.  As awareness of the organization grows so does demand for services. This presents a great opportunity but also a tremendous challenge gathering the woman/man power to make it happen.

If you’d like to help please sign up for a fence build. You do not need to be a skilled construction worker to fill an important niche. Each build requires simple tasks such as clipping wire fencing, twisting fasteners, loading and unloading supplies. Tools and gloves are provided.

And even if you are absolutely not the fence-building type, you can still fill an important role. Some of the most-needed volunteer jobs include:

Veterinary transport for spay/neuter and other health needs,

  • Community outreach, marketing and tabling at events,
  • Dog house delivery and/or assembly,
  • Making a financial donation.

Also, Fences For Fido asks you to let us know where help may be needed. If you see a dog living on a chain all you need do is visit the FFF website or call in and provide the address. A volunteer will confidentially and respectfully check to see if help can be provided.

We may never get to all the dogs that need help but the lives of each one we touch improves beyond measure. I have seen this in the dogs loosed from chains and the grateful families who loved them but were unable, without a little help, to provide the best for them. I have felt it in myself — each time the chain comes off and the dog’s world expands I am flooded with the warm feeling of giving, of making a life-transforming difference, for someone who needed a little help.

One fence. One family. One dog at a time.

For more information:

503.621.9225 or 503.314.7105

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