It’s a warm, sunny, spring day and DJ the chocolate lab is romping in his fenced-in yard, just outside the Ridgefield city limits. Nearby, DJ’s backyard buddies – a sweet-tempered pair of kinder goats – warm themselves in the bright afternoon sun, ignoring 6-year-old DJ’s sniffs and excited tail-wagging.
“He’s so happy now,” says DJ’s human mom, Tracy Trussler, laughing as the still-puppyish DJ tosses a hot pink ball into the air and tries to catch it. “I love that he can run around and play, instead of having to be on a chain.”
DJ wasn’t always this free and happy. When Trussler and her husband, Mike, adopted DJ six years ago, they intended for him to be an indoor dog, a part of the family. But life circumstances change. When the Trusslers moved from their Vancouver home, which had a large, fenced-in backyard, to Ridgefield, their new landlord would not allow DJ to live inside the house.
Although the Trusslers’ new home was on a rural parcel, surrounded by trees and grass, DJ tended to roam into the neighbors’ yards when left unsupervised. To keep the dog safe – and to avoid conflicts with their neighbors – the Trusslers put DJ on a chain in their backyard and attached it to a zip line.
“He could roam in and out of the barn, but he couldn’t go too far,” Tracy says of DJ’s 50-foot zipline set-up.
The Trusslers didn’t want to keep DJ tied up outside, but with two young, adopted sons and limited resources, the family couldn’t afford to give up the spacious rental house they’d found outside Ridgefield. They also couldn’t afford to fence the backyard, so keeping DJ on the zipline seemed to be their only option.
Then Tracy heard about Fences for Fido, a Portland-based nonprofit that builds free fences for dogs who live outside, or are kept on a chain outside for most of the day. The group also provides free dogs houses for dogs like DJ, who sleep outside. Tracy called the group and got on their waitlist.
Last June, a large group of Fences for Fido volunteers drove to the Trusslers’ house and worked diligently all weekend – first setting fence posts and then returning with homemade dog treats, a new collar for DJ, and a crew of fence-builders that had come to change DJ’s life for the better.
“They were amazing people,” Tracy says of the Fences for Fido volunteers. “About 16 people showed up to build DJ a fence. There were so many people … I couldn’t believe it! I’ve never seen a group come together like that. And they had a blast, too. They were having fun. At the end, after they built the fence and DJ was running around, playing and happy, Mike and I were hugging everyone and just very emotional, overwhelmed by what they’d done for us.”
A few months later, the Fences for Fido folks returned to the Trusslers’ house and constructed a sturdy dog house for DJ to sleep in, or retreat to when it’s rainy and windy outside.
“I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done,” Tracy says. “If we could keep him inside, we would.”
Fences for Fido’s president, Ken Alwine, says his group has built many fences inside Clark County’s boundaries, and is always looking for volunteers from southwest Washington who can help with the mostly-weekend fence builds.
Since their beginning in 2009, Fences for Fido has helped unchain more than 1,000 dogs in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. The group depends on volunteers for all of its services, including fence-building, doing community outreach, delivering and assembling dog houses, and transporting pets to and from veterinarians for spay/neuter appointments.
The group relies on volunteers and community funding and has a waitlist for families hoping to get a free fence built for their outside dogs. Currently, the waitlist is about two months long.
“We truly wish we could help everyone in our community, but since we are an all-volunteer organization, relying solely on volunteer and financial generosity … we must use those resources in the most responsible way possible, helping those dogs and families who need it the very, very most,” states Fences for Fido’s co-chair Kelly Peterson in an open letter to families requesting a free fence. “It truly breaks our hearts to make such difficult decisions, but we recognizes, as an all-volunteer organization, we must be realistic about what we can accomplish in our community.”
The group does accomplish quite a bit, considering the fact that it relies solely on volunteers. In just six years, Fences for Fido volunteers have unchained more than 1,000 dogs, and the group is constantly building new fences and constructing new dog houses for pups throughout Oregon and Washington.
During the past weekend, on Sat. and Sun. June 6-7, the group constructed fences for dogs in Salem, Waldport, Keizer and Madras in Oregon, as well as a fence for two dogs – Blake and Luna – in Longview.
Interested in learning more about Fences for Fido’s work to unchain dogs or in volunteering your free time to help make dogs’ lives better? Visit Fences for Fido at https://www.fencesforfido.org, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FencesForFido.
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