Nine years ago, Kristin Crankshaw was driving down a Springfield street when she noticed a dog chained outside. Every time Crankshaw made the drive, she saw the dog was still chained.
“It was the first dog I had seen perpetually chained, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to try to help that dog,’” she says. “On a whim I stopped at the owner’s house to find out why they kept the dog outside and how we could help. The owner was unreceptive, and I knew it would be an uphill battle.”
Since then, Crankshaw has dedicated herself to helping dogs through her non-profit organization: The Backyard Dog Project (BYDP).
The Backyard Dog Project is an all-volunteer group that helps owners improve the quality of life for outdoor dogs in Ohio's Clark, Champaign and Union counties. The focus is in neighborhoods where people are often unable to provide basic supplies and veterinary care for their dogs.
“One of our biggest challenges is working within the law,” Crankshaw says. “If a residence has a ‘no trespassing’ sign I cannot enter the property to check on a dog.”
Crankshaw says many people tell her to "just take the dog” when they observe the conditions the dog is living in, but by law, the BYDP cannot do that.
The BYDP strives to help families who are willing to work to become responsible pet owners. In addition to donated supplies, education in basic pet care, and access to affordable vet care, the BYDP offers guidance in finding alternatives to continuous chaining/penning as a method of pet containment.
Crankshaw never approaches a home by herself and says it’s hard to create a rapport with people. She often brings a bag of treats, or some kind of ice breaker to start a conversation with the dog’s owner.
“Dogs are looked at as property a lot of times, and people don’t like to be told how to care for their property,” she says. “I try to educate on the dangers of leaving a dog chained 24/7.”
Some of those dangers include the environmental elements, such as excessive heat or cold.
“This time of year (winter) is emotional; we start seeing really bad things and I often wonder how much longer I can do this,” she says. “If you see something, say something. Definitely reach out if you see a dog in need. That is the first step in getting a dog the help it needs.”
Predators, including other dogs, are another major issue animals chained outside face.
“(Chained) females can’t escape the advances of males and end up having litter after litter,” Crankshaw says. “My first hope is to get the owners to bring the dog inside to be a part of the family. If not, then to surrender the dog. Finally, we offer support to make the dog as comfortable as possible.”
That support includes straw, doghouses, heated water bowls, lightweight tie-outs, and more.
The BYDP also partners with area dog wardens, the humane societies, and local veterinarians and kennels in order to achieve the best outcome for the dogs. Crankshaw has even fostered some surrendered dogs in her own home.
“Last summer we encountered a Husky mix that we named Simba,” she says. “He was chained on a property with two other dogs and his ears were eaten by flies; they looked like hamburger.”
Simba’s owners relinquished him to the BYDP, and he was later successfully adopted into a loving home. In fact, the BYDP has successfully rehomed 42 dogs.
But Crankshaw’s outreach doesn’t stop with the dogs she helps. Her animal assistance has also lead her to partner with Project Women, a domestic violence and sexual assault agency for Clark, Champaign, and Madison counties.
Project Woman and the Backyard Dog Project have worked together to bring women and children to safety.
“A program like BYDP is incredibly important to partner with,” says Laura Baxter, executive director of Project Woman. “As soon as we know a pet is involved, if we can make that referral and get that piece connected in the safety planning and make an accommodation, we can as quickly as possible get someone to a safe exit strategy.”
When someone is considering leaving an abuser, it is one of the most dangerous times for them, Baxter says. For example, Project Woman encountered a survivor who would not leave her abusive home because her partner had threatened to kill her dog. Sadly, when she finally did leave, he followed through on his threat.
“After that, we realized the gravity of the situation and what a deterrent it is to leave (when they have a pet),” Baxter says. “It’s a whole layer of mental abuse through loved animals. Being able to work with Kristin’s program is fantastic. She has the resources and abilities we need.”
While people can bring a companion pet or therapy animal to the Project Woman shelter, Baxter says it can become complicated because it is small and doesn’t have a working pet structure.
“An intentional source of funds is missing for us to provide these services,” says Baxter, who is hoping to receive a Red Rover grant to help with pet needs. “We have had children express concern for their pets because treatment of the pet was a part of the abuse they experienced.”
Baxter says pets are another facet of how complicated it is to leave an abuser, and the resources provided by Crankshaw and the Backyard Dog Project are invaluable.
“It’s a really great example of a partnership,” Baxter says. “Who would think if you have grooming, boarding and vet care resources, that you should partner with a women’s shelter? It takes the whole community. In the most varying and unexpected ways we all connect to help solve these things.”
Crankshaw, who also works as a preschool aide at Rolling Hills Elementary School, says her goal now is to educate herself on how to change local laws.
“Other states have done it with tethering time limits, passed laws on bringing dogs in at certain temperatures,” she says. “I would like to learn more about that and try to help our community get those things in place.”