dogs

The Blue Ridge section of the nonprofit was created in March 2018 and the last fence it put up was in late April. 

With only 22 states having legislation against chaining one’s dog, this leaves hundreds of dogs that are left outside each night despite dangerous weather conditions. These dogs are either chained up or left to roam aimlessly around their owner’s property. In the state of Virginia, it’s legal to chain one's dog up 24/7, but some regulations apply to the chain’s length. One organization, Dogs Deserve Better Blue Ridge, works to prevent the dangers that come with chaining and neglecting dogs by building fences for them.

DDBBR is a nonprofit organization that branched off its parent organization, Dogs Deserve Better, Inc., in March 2018. DDBBR’s chapter helps dogs in need in Central Virginia, mainly working in places around the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to building fences for dogs, DDBBR provides appropriate medical care, such as spaying and neutering, and facilitates services such as fostering and adoption.

The main mission for DDBBR is community outreach. They mainly help outdoor dogs that are chained or penned. However, they sometimes work with indoor dogs too.

“There are just different situations that happen; sometimes their owners go to jail, so they’re homeless at that point, and someone will contact us saying they really don’t want the dog in a shelter.” Kimberly Hawk, DDBBR co-president and founder, said.

Hawk said most of the families they work with are at or below the poverty line.

Luckily, being a nonprofit organization, DDBBR services are complementary. The only requirement before building a fence is that the dog must be spayed or neutered, which DDBBR pays for, and the family has to verbally agree to have the fence built. Additionally, Hawk said that some dogs aren’t house trained, so occasionally when they get off their chains and into the house, they’ll have accidents. DDBBR pays for house training as well in these cases.

She said there are various ways in which they hear about a dog in need. Sometimes they’ll get a call from animal control, or occasionally a concerned neighbor or relative will call about a dog. Often they’ll see a chained or penned dog while they’re doing “fieldwork.” This fieldwork consists of visiting houses with neglected or chained dogs that citizens have previously reached out to DDBBR about.

“We will be out in the field and stop at a house and introduce ourselves because we see a dog chained in the backyard,” Hawk said. “We just knock on their door, we’re very non-threatening and non-judgemental. We just offer them help and tell them who we are.”

Hawk said their non-judgmental introductions consist of merely offering to help and stating that they’re a nonprofit. For example they say “we would love to help you‘re interested.” Hawk said saying these sort of statements allow DDBBR to appear as helpful, but not too pushy.

DDBBR tries to build between ten and twelve fences a year and have built 12 since their start around 13 months ago. However, the building process is expensive and requires extensive labor, Hawk said. Although DDBBR hasn’t yet built a fence in the Harrisonburg area, Hawk said their next fence will be around Bridgewater.

Heather Lindeman, JMU alumna (’03), is the event coordinator for DDBBR. She’s worked for DDBBR since it launched in March 2018. Lindeman said the entirety of the leadership team and other employees at DDBBR are unpaid volunteers.

“We all work full-time jobs, so it’s something that allows us to give back outside of what we do from the day to day,” Lindeman said. “We have a lot of fun doing it, and it’s really fulfilling to feel like we’re giving back and helping local dogs in need and their families in need.”

In addition to community outreach on the weekends, Lindeman said that DDBBR works with dogs during the week. From cold calls, which is contacting individuals who’ve not yet been contacted, to transporting dogs to their vet appointments, the volunteers are always involved in helping the dogs.

“We’re constantly doing stuff throughout every weekend of the year,” Lindeman said. “If we’re not doing field days or cold calls or fence builds, then we’re having an event at a brewery to help raise awareness about what we’re doing. Sometimes during the week, we do some cold calls or home visits quickly after work.”

Among the group of volunteers is Shira Laubach, a JMU alumna “double duke” (’85 and ’06). Laubach —like other DDBBR volunteers— was initially involved with another community outreach group, the Houses of Wood & Straw Project. The HOWS project was the organization that Hawk also split off from, but HOWS and DDBBR are not related in anyway. After she saw one of DDBBR’s posts on Facebook, Labach decided to join them.

Laubach said that at DDBBR, she enjoys that she can “actually go out and make a difference” herself. She said this gives both her and the dogs immediate satisfaction.

“It’s easy to donate money or help at a different level in an organization, but when you’re actually going out and doing something that gives that dog immediate help, it’s so much better,” Laubach said. “That’s what’s really different about DDB is that they’re making an immediate difference when they help.”

April 21 was the most recent fence build DDBBR participated in. Hawk said she’d been working with the family and the dog for six months as the process to build a fence is gradual. There are many steps that must happen before building the fence, such as the dogs being fully vetted. While helping this group of three Huskies, Hawk was elated after the fence was complete.

“I’m really close with those dogs,” Hawk said. “Taking them off their chains, and getting them right next to their families house, and watching them run, and seeing how happy the family was —not just the dogs— is really a great feeling.”

Contact Carley Welch at welchcw@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.