While not much good has happened on the football field for the Cleveland Browns this season, one recent weekend gave the local Carolina Browns Backers fan club a chance to rally around a cause they could be proud of.
On a sunny Sunday morning, before heading to their usual game-day spot at Kennedy's in the Elizabeth neighborhood, some Browns Backers members joined volunteers and staff with the Humane Society of Charlotte to build a fence for Miracle, a pit bull mix that's been chained up outside of her west Charlotte home through much of the summer.
It was the 20th fence built in the Enderly Park neighborhood through I-Build, a fence-building program that's part of HSC's Pets For Life initiative, in which volunteers focus on one underserved community to make things easier for pet owners and make life better for pets.
Although I-Build has been in operation since July of last year, the Pets for Life crew has been in Enderly Park since 2012, building relationships with pet owners and offering to help with vaccinations, vet visits, spaying and neutering dogs and any other issues that owners may need help with.
"What we've found is that in these areas the people don't know about our resources so they don't come to us for anything," said Bennet Simonsen, program manager with Pets for Life. "So it's important to go out there and tell people proactively that we're here, that we're not judging you or saying you're not a good parent or you don't deserve that pet. We're asking, 'How can we help you keep your pet?' I know you love your pet and let's make it easier for you to own your pet."
The Pets for Life team chose Enderly Park after studying a number of Charlotte neighborhoods in which owners could be in need of help or where many were leaving their dogs out and, therefore, at risk. Sixty-one percent of the residents in Enderly Park live under the poverty line and the area's unemployment hovers around 18 percent. Many pet owners don't have the resources to keep their dogs up to date on shots, and behavioral issues often restrict dogs from being allowed inside the house.
In 2012, Simonsen began walking the streets of Enderly Park, going door-to-door asking if people were pet owners and whether they needed any help. He faced a lot of suspicion near the beginning of the program, as many people thought he intended to take pets away from people. Over the months, however, people recognized him in the neighborhood and became more comfortable speaking to him.
"The majority of people, or everybody that I've met at least, the reason they do the things that they're doing is because a lack of resources or a lack of information," Simonsen said. "They don't know there are resources they can access. I've never seen anybody who is purposefully, maliciously mistreating an animal, they just don't know any other way to do it."
Miracle's owner, David Boulware, said he agreed to take care of her when he heard someone with a large group of dogs had left town for a new job and left the dogs behind. The person fostering the dogs didn't have the resources to treat them all how they needed to be treated. He took in Miracle and named her that because that's what she needed and that's what she became, he said. She's not allowed in the house, however, and looking on Sunday as more than 10 volunteers worked on a new fence for her, Boulware was often speechless.
"I just can't put into words how much this means to me," Boulware said. "It means a great deal to me, because I'm on a fixed income and it's just wonderful that we have people like the Humane Society to come out and do things like this to help people."
Simonsen met Boulware while he was out walking the streets as he does in Enderly Park three to four times a week. Since they met, Pets for Life has helped support Miracle with the insertion of a microchip, having her spayed, getting her vaccinated and helping with a number of other resources.
For the recent fence build, the Carolina Browns Backers funded the purchase of all the materials with $600 raised through weekly raffles at their gatherings during games at Kennedy's. Participating volunteers also brought a large amount of food and toys for Miracle.
"We see it as Dawgs helping dogs," said Ryan Solan, co-founder of the Carolina Browns Backers, referring to the famous Dawg Pound, a passionate group of Browns fans who sit in the bleachers behind the east end zone at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium. "We just wanted to put a fence around her so she can run around and have that freedom. What's a better feeling than helping a dog out when it's needed?"