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Chopper "Never again a chain!"

“Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.” John Galsworthy 

The price we pay for loving dogs is that we will have to say goodbye someday – and always too soon. We each know this all too well. In fact, it’s been said that this may be the only real flaw of dogs – the painful fact that their lives are so much shorter than ours. 

Today we all feel this familiar sadness because we’ve learned that Chopper – Fences for Fido’s very first unchained dog – died this week due to complications of cancer. With the passing of this stately, gentle old friend, we want to pause and remember what a mark Chopper left on our world. He was once a lonely, scruffy backyard dog. But everything changed, practically overnight, when a group of Portland friends met Chopper and realized they could do something to help. What they did changed Chopper’s life and his family’s life, and then that change rippled across the community and just kept going. Chopper galvanized a mission and a passion that continues to grow today. 

 

Chopper’s story as we knew it began with realizing that he was tethered in his Northeast Portland yard for several years. His entire world was one small circle around one tree, where he dragged his heavy chain, paced until the ground was bare, and dug holes to pass the time. Neighbors would pet him as they passed by, but those visits gave only fleeting relief between long stretches of loneliness and boredom. This playful, amiable yellow lab mix grew weary and sullen. His spark started to dim. 

About that time, a group of Portland-area friends heard about a group called The Coalition to Unchain Dogs in North Carolina. When they found out this group built free fences so dogs wouldn’t have to be chained, they were inspired. Chopper’s family must have had doubts, having strangers knock on the door and ask to build a fence around their yard, completely free, no strings attached. But they graciously agreed. So the group of friends – women with no fence-building experience – started scraping together money and recruiting help. Their first call was to the organizers of the North Carolina group, who generously mentored the Portland group through their first build. 

In May of 2009 – on a sunny Memorial Day weekend – volunteers dug post-holes, pounded tee posts and completed their first fence. It was a weekend of many firsts. Holding Chopper’s collar and counting down to zero, co-founders Kelly and Andrea got their first taste of releasing that chain and watching a dog spring forward into freedom. Chopper ran and played, free from his chain for the first time in six years. His spark was rekindled. 

The group of friends decided they’d keep going, continuing to find dogs on chains and delivering freedom right to their doors. And on that day, Fences For Fido was born. 

Chopper not only inspired this phenomenon, but his story perfectly embodied the highest hopes of Fences For Fido and its mission. That’s because Chopper’s fence did far more than free him from his chain; it transformed his relationship with his family. 

Chopper’s human, Keith, who bravely said yes to the energetic strangers who knocked on his door with that implausible proposition, wrote us this letter:

"Fences For Fido changed my dog's life and my life." "I never knew how unhappy he was on a chain. Chopper is the happiest dog in the world! And you have a major hand in that!" "I love my backyard even more now and Chopper and Fat Cat love it too!" "We spend lots more time together now!" "Never again a chain!" 

For Fences For Fido volunteers, this was much of what we hope for with every fence. 

Chopper lived many years in the freedom of his fenced yard, and with a family who loved his company. His transformation changed the lives of countless others who watched his story, joined our cause, or sent us addresses of other dogs who needed freedom too. To date, the work Chopper inspired has: unchained over 650 additional dogs in Oregon and Washington, spurred new groups in other states to free dogs, and helped pass humane legislation to limit tethering in Oregon. And we’re just getting started! 

The organization Chopper inspired is now four and a half years old, and it honors his memory every day. Of course we remember him every time we un-clip a chain and watch another dog run free in a newly-fenced yard. We also have a particularly meaningful way to honor Chopper and other aging dogs that have lived on a chain: donations to a special account called Smokey’s Fund allow Fences for Fido to provide veterinary care, training, or other special care for dogs that have spent multiple years on a chain. The fund is named after another beloved dog whose spirit was as irrepressible as Chopper's. 

We know Chopper’s departure leaves a too-quiet empty space in his family’s life; it’s always what these friends carry away with them when they go. And Chopper carries more than that. He leaves a legacy that still grows. We will always remember the big yellow dog who started it all. 

We invite you to follow along all week as we share, every day, a little bit of Chopper’s legacy for your viewing. He’s just too special a dog for only one post, and we think you will agree. And if Chopper makes you decide to donate, or to pick up a pair of pliers and help build a fence in 2014, you’re in good company. Chopper has inspired us all to help all the dogs that we can to live a better life.

To look back at some of our earlier stories about Chopper, you can see the video of The Coalition to Unchain Dogs coming out to Portland to help us build Chopper's fence here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aEIwOnIX1A&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLEFCF5C6634171145  and another version of the story of Chopper, in the voices of those who were there, in this video:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCesRefH8go&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLEFCF5C6634171145

Finally, because we love this dog so very much, a parting tribute to Chopper can be found here:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGEfAIVjMUk&feature=you.tube