Kelly Peterson is the Senior Vice President of State Affairs for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). She works with HSUS state directors throughout the country to support animal welfare legislation, fight animal cruelty, and engage like-minded citizens to promote the protection of animals.
Kelly is also a co-founder of Oregon-based, Fences For Fido, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that builds fences free of charge for families who keep their dogs on chains or tethers. The organization got its start in 2009 after Kelly, and a small group of her friends, gathered in her kitchen to discuss how they could help a neighborhood dog that was constantly chained outside.
Joyce Brown: What is Fences For Fido?
Kelly Peterson: Fences For Fido started as a scrappy organization around my kitchen table, but it’s now grown into a mature, professional, serious-minded organization that has been successful in changing hearts, minds, and laws.
Our original goal was to build one fence a month to improve the quality of life for a dog living outside in the elements all day and night. Today, it’s still our mission, but we’ve grown as an organization and are now able to help many dogs each month. We do it by providing free fences, warm dog houses, and emergency veterinary care. Through the process, it's natural for a stronger bond to develop between a dog and his or her family.
It’s been over six years since we started, and we could have never imagined how many dogs and families were waiting for help. Some dogs have never received consistent love, known freedom, or experienced the joy of play. We've met some dogs who’ve waited more than ten years to know life beyond their five or six-foot chains.
For us, the positive results are so tangible that it has been easy for us to keep growing as an organization. To date, we've unchained over 1,300 dogs in Oregon and Washington.
Joyce: What’s your current involvement with Fences For Fido?
Kelly: I was privileged to serve as Chair and President for four years, but I’ve since turned over the reins to new leaders, and the organization today soars, and I’m humbled to be a part of it.
In addition to being a Board Member Emertius, I serve as the Client Outreach Director, managing and directing our client outreach coordinators who work with our families from the very beginning of our relationship. It’s probably the most intimate role within the organization and some days it can bring you to tears. But, when you witness a dog run free, sometimes for the first time in years, the love you feel for the dog at that moment can turn your heart inside out.
Joyce: How do you approach people when you’d like to offer them a fence for their dog?
Kelly: We learn about chained dogs in several ways. Families will submit an application for a fence themselves, but most of the time they are referred to us anonymously from concerned neighbors, family members, or friends. Of course, others come from law enforcement or animal control.
Our philosophy is simple: We extend compassion to both people and their pets, and we approach families without judgment. We’re aware that there are many reasons why people chain their dogs. Some people simply don't know anything different because that's what their family did for generations. Others lack the resources to build a proper fence. Whatever the reason might be, our mission is not to pass judgment. We're just there to solve the problem. All you have to do is stand next to the family the moment the dog is released from his or her chain, and you know this program is working.
Joyce: Where does the money for the fences come from?
Kelly: We're an all-volunteer, non-profit organization, which means that we exist solely on donations of money, materials, and volunteer labor. Every donation is vital and goes to our mission. Our donors and volunteers are out there in the field with us every Saturday because it takes a dog-loving village to do this work. We couldn't do it without our extended community and supporters here in Oregon, and around the country.
Joyce: What can a volunteer expect on the day of a fence installation?
Kelly: On the day of a build, there are tasks available for all physical and skill levels. We typically partner our first-time builders with experienced volunteers, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve never built a fence before. We start our team meetings at 9 o'clock in the morning with the crew leader and client outreach coordinator who are leading the efforts throughout the day. We usually finish around noon, so within a few hours, a fence is built.
I never want to take for granted, or forget, what it felt like for me to take part in my first fence build. It's important to keep in mind, for any first-time fence builder, what you're seeing is the beginning of a relationship between a family and Fences For Fido. It might be emotionally painful, but you can be assured that the client outreach coordinator is working with the family to address any larger issues that might be at play.
The beauty of Fences For Fido is that you get to see first-hand how you can donate three hours of time on a Saturday or Sunday morning and then be immediately rewarded by witnessing the excitement that dog feels in the first moment they're released from their chain. It's magical.
Joyce: What is Oregon’s anti-tethering law? How did it come to be?
Kelly: The Oregon bill passed in 2013. The goal was to pass a law that would free chronically chained dogs in the state, based on time and manner in which a dog is chained. The law is consistent with our outdoor shelter standard, which is equally important. It was a 5-month process that involved some of the key stakeholders in Oregon, like law enforcement, the Oregon Humane Society, animal control, HSUS, the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, and Fences For Fido who championed the effort.
The heart and soul of Fences For Fido will always be building fences, but we recognized it sometimes wasn’t enough just to build fences alone. We needed to address the overarching problem associated with long-term tethering. We wanted to elevate the standard of care and ask our families to find better ways to meet the needs of their 4-legged family members. That was important for Fences For Fido, to have a law that established a minimum standard in Oregon of what's acceptable.
The law had to be modest, sensible, and suitable for all counties around the state. However, counties can adopt stricter standards. Ultimately, it improves the lives of dogs suffering on chains, but it also improves public safety. We know that chained dogs are much more likely to bite, and 80% of dog-related complaints to law enforcement involve chained dogs. That was a larger goal, as well.
Joyce: As the Senior Vice President of State Affairs for HSUS, I’m sure you have some great ideas on how I can get more involved with animal welfare and protection here in Maine. What do you suggest?
Kelly: There are a lot of ways to get involved, whether you’re looking to donate money, or looking for volunteer leadership opportunities. A great first step would be to sign up as an HSUS ally. It's quick and easy, and it lets our Maine state director know what volunteer opportunities you’re interested in. I would encourage you to try to become either a district leader or a deputy district leader.
Getting to know your elected officials; your state representatives, state senator, and asking for their support on animal protection issues is a great step. Also, following HSUS Maine on Facebook will help you stay up-to-date on all the pressing issues. The overall goal is to empower citizens to be a collective voice for animals.