A woman and her dog play near the new fenced area for Lake Washington United Methodist Church’s Safe Parking program. Brian Grubb, Fences For Fido

A woman and her dog play near the new fenced area for Lake Washington United Methodist Church’s Safe Parking program. Brian Grubb, Fences For Fido

Volunteers build dog park for homeless women’s pets

Fences For Fido, a regional nonprofit organization, recently partnered with a local church to provide an off-leash area for dogs who live in cars with their homeless owners.

The organization sent their Olympia crew to help Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland build a small dog park last Saturday for a Safe Parking program. The program provides a safe place for homeless single-women and families to park, shower and cook in church facilities.

“I think sometimes we have a preconceived idea of who homeless and un-housed people are,” said Joy Theilsen, coordinator for the church’s Safe Parking program. “They’re just regular people and they’re trying as best they can to get out of this situation.

Fences For Fido organizes volunteers and donations to build fences for confined or chained dogs throughout Oregon and southwest Washington. The church noticed many of their guests had pets that were often confined to vehicles and decided to host a fencing project.

“Sometimes their dog is the only family or friends they have,” said Michele Coppola, operations coordinator and president of communications at Fences For Fido. “We want to make sure that these dogs, who sometimes spend 20-plus hours in the car with their owners, have a place where they can exercise, be healthy and be dogs.”

Fences For Fido began in 2009 when the first group built its first fence in Portland, Oregon. for a yellow Labrador mix named Chopper. The organization now has chapters from Albany, Oregon to Olympia and as far east as Hood River, Oregon.

<strong></strong>One of the Safe Parking guests’ dog explores the new 20- by 100-foot area built by Fences For Fido’s Olympia volunteer crew. <em>Brian Grubb, Fences For Fido</em>

One of the Safe Parking guests’ dog explores the new 20- by 100-foot area built by Fences For Fido’s Olympia volunteer crew. Brian Grubb, Fences For Fido

Additionally, the organization started the Unchained Planet movement in hopes to spread their mission and inspire other groups to form worldwide.

Fences For Fido has been attempting to form a King County crew to meet the high demand in the area. Coppola said she hope’s this project will inspire locals to start a group.

“I would be happy to volunteer or be on their board up here,” Theilsen said. “The need is there. We just need to get something going…Hopefully, we’ll get enough interest in it to get people to step up to the plate.”

Currently, the Olympia-based volunteer crew is the furthest north Fences For Fido has expanded to and while they hoped to inspire a new crew in the King County area, Coppola said they were happy just to help the Safe Parking program.

“It was something we just had to do,” she said. “We were uniquely equipped to help with (the situation).”

Fences For Fido often targets their projects toward individual dogs that are continuously chained up outside. The volunteer crews simply ask to build a fence and insulated dog house at no cost to the owner.

Unfortunately, some owners aren’t interested in the project, but the organization has helped unchain more than 1,300 dogs in the region, according to Coppola.

The LWUMC project features a 20-foot-by-100-foot fenced area giving the dogs an enormous upgrade from a cramped vehicle. The church is also looking at options for the many cats and bunnies that their guests own, according to Theilsen.

The parking program began after the church as a whole voted to provide homeless families and single-women with a safe place to park, sleep in their cars and join the community. The program has hosted 400-500 women and children over the past five years. Theilsen said the congregation will soon discuss expanding the program by building a separate shelter.

“I have met some of the most amazing, resilient people in my life in this program,” Theilsen said. “They want to get out of this situation, this is not someplace they want to be…and they’re right in your own neighborhood.”

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