Helping Outside Dogs In Need Since 2008

HOWS Project

HOWS stands for Houses of Wood & Straw.  HOWS Project is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization, working to improve the lives and well-being of outside dogs in Charlottesville and surrounding counties.


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Who We ARe

Our Mission

HOWS Project was created in 2008 to address an overlooked need to help improve the lives and well-being of outside dogs in Charlottesville and surrounding counties.

What We Do

We build HOWS Project Dog Houses to improve the often legal but inadequate shelters outside dogs call “home”.  We’ve built over 1,000 to date!

We are thankful for our volunteer builder workforce of local schools’ carpentry classes, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, youth mentoring groups, and animal-loving adult volunteer carpenters who build HOWS-designed wooden dog houses for outside dogs (and the occasional goat, cat, pig) in need in our community.

HOWS volunteers distribute these HOWS houses along with other “essentials”.

These include no-tip water buckets, stainless steel food bowls, sturdy nylon collars and walking leads, straw bedding, flea/tick preventative, dog food, treats, toys, hugs…and education for the animals’ people regarding best practices for their 4-legged companions.

HOWS does fencing!

We erect several fences per year to get more dogs off the chain, enabling them to explore more of their basic dog behaviors – running, playing, fetching – while protecting them from physical entanglement and mental frustration caused by being chained for extended periods of time.

And finally, HOWS works to educate the public and lawmakers about the plight of outside dogs.

Many people are unaware of just how many dogs are suffering or how inadequate current laws are which are meant to protect these animals.

WhY We Do IT

Not all dogs get the opportunity to regularly share the indoors with their people. In fact, some dogs live their entire lives outside alone, at the end of a chain or in a tiny pen, with legal yet inappropriate shelter and surroundings.  Most of our local animal laws 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 person, with their “pack”, seeking only the basics – love, attention, and protection.

HOWS Project strives to educate people about the needs of their dogs, to be a resource for them to help them better help their animals.  And, for those dogs who must spend much or all of their time outside, we provide more comfortable shelter and other amenities. All of our products and services are free to our clients.


WHAT is needed

When outside, a dog’s shelter needs to be substantial enough to protect him from the elements of wind, wet, heat, and cold.  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 a dog to stand in and turn around comfortably, but not too much bigger than that.  A raised insulated 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 entry cover further help keep dogs safe from wet and wind.  An overextended flat roof further blocks the sun, rain, and snow.

A HOWS Project Dog House provides all of this.

When temps drop below 50° F, best to add a thick “birds nest” of straw bedding; in the warmer season, pine bedding works best.  Shade in the summertime; extra protections as the cold sets in.  But during temperature extremes (under 35° F and over 80° F), dogs need to be out of the elements and inside, out of danger.


WHy It’s Important

The laws on the books intended to protect outside dogs in the state of Virginia leave a lot to be desired.  And sadly, most cities and counties in our state follow the state codes as they pertain to animal law.  The laws are archaic and vague.  They are written to protect certain interest groups, not the animals.

So, while an outdoor shelter and environment might be legally suitable, it could be a far cry from what a dog really needs to be protected and comfortable.

Just Add Dogs Podcast

In this episode of Just Add Dogs, Lindsay Eland sits down and chats with the HOWS Project founder, Stacey Norris. They talk about the ins and outs of her mission to help improve the lives and well-being of the over-looked population of outside dogs while also helping the families of these dogs and educating the community in a nonjudgemental way.  

Click to Listen

Community support

How To Help


HOWS Project offers many products and services to our clients, all free of cost. And we are able to do so because of generous people who see the value in what we do and how we do it. We stretch every dollar to help as many animals as possible. We love material donations as much as monetary donations. Please click here to see our list of needed materials. For monetary donations, you may send a check, payable to HOWS Project, to our PO Box address, or make a donation through Paypal by clicking here.

Build A Dog (or cat) House

If you are interested in building a sturdy HOWS Project Dog House (or Cat House) for an outside animal you care about, we would be happy to share our well-developed plans with you.
Our Construction Coordinator has spent countless hours perfecting them over the years! They are extremely detailed and easy to follow! We just ask that if you reproduce our dog house plans or cat house plans in any way that you credit both the authors (Nancy Burr and Brad Suter) and HOWS Project for the creation of the document(s).


You can improve the life of an outside dog in need, whether it’s your own dog or a dog in your neighborhood! There are lots of good practices that can be followed to help better his well-being.  HOWS Project is more than willing to lend a hand to help with anything from advice to hands-on assistance. We want to be a resource for folks who want to do better for outside dogs. All that we offer is free of cost to our clients.
HOWS Project also believes in the power of educating the public and our lawmakers about the failures of many of our state and local animal codes, which often fall short of protecting the animals they were written to safeguard. We advocate for common sense legislation. We look to hold law enforcement accountable to uphold such legislation. You too can join us in this movement to help our legislators and law enforcement do better for outside dogs in need.



There are LOTS of ways to volunteer with HOWS Project. We are always looking for folks to:

  • Visit dogs and deliver HOWS Project Dog Houses with our weekend teams!
  • Help us to erect fencing!
  • Build dog houses!
  • Gather materials to help prep for delivery days and fence days!
  • Transport dogs to the vet for spay/neuter!
  • Foster when we have surrendered dogs in our care!
  • Table for us!
  • Assist our fundraising committee with events!

And a million other things! Never a dull moment with HOWS Project.  And all for the love of the dogs who need us!

We can't do it alone

We are very thankful for our supporters and sponsors as without their monetary donations, volunteerism, and referrals of dogs in need we would not be nearly as successful in helping as many animals as we do each year.