Houses of Wood and Straw - Helping to Shelter Outside Dogs

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  -- Mahatma Gandhi


What is the HOWS Project?

HOWS stands for Houses of Wood & Straw, and the HOWS Project is a community service project which exists to construct wooden dog houses and deliver them, along with bales of straw bedding and other essential items, to outside dogs in Charlottesville and surrounding counties in need of more appropriate outdoor shelter.

Chester and his new house.

The HOWS Project was created by Stacey Norris, its Project Coordinator, in 2008. Since its first year of operation - with the help of local schools' carpentry classes, Boy Scout troops, hardware and building supply companies, individual donors, animal control officers, and animal loving volunteers - the HOWS Project has built and distributed over 600 wooden dog houses to outside dogs (and a few goats and feral cats!) in need in Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson, Orange, and Cumberland. HOWS recipients from current and past years, and other dogs that we encounter on our journeys, receive bales of straw bedding each fall/winter season; and other items such as water buckets, food bowls, nylon collars, leashes, and swivels to keep tethers from kinking are distributed as needed. Hundreds of dogs have benefited from our services.


And the HOWS Project has much planned for its 2016-2017 season. We will provide another 80-90 houses for outside dogs in need; organize a fall straw drive to supply as many dogs as possible with dry warm bedding for the cold winter months ahead; further educate dog guardians on the proper care and treatment of outside dogs; and push for (continued) improvements to our local animal welfare codes.

Why is There a Need for the HOWS Project

Not all dogs get the opportunity to regularly share the indoors with their guardian. In fact, some dogs live their entire lives outside, many confined, some even chained or tethered. Current law allows for this, but the HOWS Project does not condone it. We believe that all dogs should be - and need to be - allowed inside. Dogs are social creatures that long to be near their guardian, with their "pack", seeking only the basics - love, attention, and protection.

Unfortunately, too many dogs find themselves outside alone, at the end of a chain or in a tiny pen, and without appropriate shelter.

The HOWS Project strives to educate people about the needs of dogs; and, for those dogs who must spend much or all of their time outside, we provide more comfortable shelter than what they would have had otherwise.

Outside Dogs

When outside, your dog’s shelter need be substantial enough to protect him from the summer heat, the winter cold, the winds, rains, snow, and ice as well.
Wooden houses are best, as they insulate in the winter and "breathe" in the summer. Size matters too; a house should be big enough for your dog to stand in and turn around comfortably, but not too much bigger than that. A raised floor helps to keep the house from absorbing the heat or cold from the ground, as well as protects the floor from rotting. An offset opening and waterproofed entryway cover further help keep your dog safe from wetness and wind. The HOWS Project provides all of this, plus straw bedding to line the inside floor when temperatures drop below 50° F.

Current law, however, does not specify any of this. The state of Virginia merely requires that an outside dog’s shelter have a roof, floor, and three sides. That’s it.  And almost all of the cities and counties in the state of Virginia follow the state ordinances, even though these localities have the power to write stricter laws to amend and further protect these companion animals.  So, while an outdoor shelter might be legally suitable, it could be a far cry from what your dog really needs to be comfortable.

How can you help the HOWS Project and Outside Dogs?

There are lots of ways to help!

We have a list of materials needed for the construction and distribution of our houses. Monetary and material donations are much appreciated.
We are always looking for volunteers to help us fundraise, educate, and distribute (both raw materials and completed houses and bales of straw).
Report any dogs you think might be in need of the HOWS Project - a house, straw, or both.
Befriend a dog in need: take him for a walk, brush him, bring him toys and snacks.
Write to your legislature; changing the law is the ultimate step in bettering the lives of outside dogs.

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“I pray for all of us, oppressor and friend, that together we succeed in building a better world through human understanding and love, and that in doing so we may reduce the pain and suffering of all sentient beings.” -- Dalai Lama

© 2008-2019 Houses of Wood & Straw, a project of Voices for Animals