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TWIN FALLS • Sometimes all it takes is one person to affect change.

A month ago Amber Halsell decided she should be that person. Because of her, 22 dogs and cats in the Magic Valley are warmer this winter. And the number keeps growing.

Halsell started Operation Idaho Doghouse Project, a group of volunteers who help provide shelters for dogs and cats in need in southern Idaho, so they are warm in the cold winters and cool in the hot summers.

“I was reading some of the comments written in response to a post on the Twin Falls animal shelter’s Facebook page asking everyone to please ensure their pets were protected from the cold,” Halsell said. “There was a comment from a person who had gone to check on a neighbor’s dogs who were chained up in the yard with no shelter. What she found instead was one of the dogs dead from exposure. She tried to move him, but he was frozen to the ground.”

Halsell, who is on the board of directors for People for Pets-Magic Valley Humane Society Inc. and is a volunteer at the shelter, wanted to make sure no other animal died this way.

So Halsell started asking Facebook friends for old doghouses and donations. What it morphed into is a grassroots organization of volunteers who are building, delivering and donating shelters, bedding and food to dogs and cats in need.

• • •

Wind whipped across the fields south of Twin Falls. After only a couple of seconds, it numbed your ears and your eyes watered.

Denise Wright’s hair whipped across her face as she helped guide Geoff Smith as he backed their truck into Tammy Elmer’s driveway.

“Thank you, thank you,” Elmer said as Wright and Smith started to unload three doghouses and place them inside a fenced area next to Elmer’s house.

Elmer said it has been so cold lately that she lets her three dogs — Kia, Sitka and Ginger — sleep inside the house at night. But during the day the rambunctious three are hard to keep cooped up inside the house, and it’s too cold to let them run around outside with no shelter from the elements.

“They get cold and miserable,” Elmer said.

On Jan. 30, Operation Idaho Doghouse Project volunteers Wright and Smith delivered to Elmer’s dogs three doghouses built by volunteers, cushions to line the bottoms and dog food.

Elmer’s next-door-neighbor Ella Jackson, 5, was also there to help, carrying cushions and writing a thank-you note for Wright and Smith on the sidewalk with pink chalk.

When Elmer let her three dogs out of her room to take a look at their new houses, they barked loudly as they sniffed and claimed their houses.

“They’re saying thank you,” Jackson said.

• • •

At first, Halsell said, she would knock on doors when she noticed dogs without shelter or was following a tip. The response was usually positive, though a few people declined her help.

The group’s Facebook page says the group is dedicated to helping local families provide for the safety of their pets and not “calling out” or embarrassing pet owners.

Halsell said more people are coming to the group for help as the word travels of its services.

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The group has 297 supporters following its Facebook page.

“There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer,” Halsell said.

Donell Short found out about the group from one of Halsell’s Facebook posts. Short said the two are Facebook friends but haven’t met in person.

For some time Short had been collecting old sofa cushions, hoping to make them into dog beds for the animal shelter.

“When this project happened, I thought, ‘Oh my god this is perfect,’” Short said. “I’ve just been sitting on this idea and I got all this stuff — let’s do it.”

Short said Operation Idaho Doghouse Project not only provides warm shelter for dogs and cats, but also gets some pet owners to look differently at their animals.

“This year with the cold weather snap their bodies can’t handle it,” Short said. “I think there is a misconception with some people that they think any dog can survive outside.”

Halsell said the group has received $200 worth of donations from The Home Depot, and Snake River Storage in Twin Falls donated the use of three storage units as a place to gather and distribute donations. The project has also received donations from several other organizations, such as the Idaho Humane Society in Boise.

On Jan. 30, Halsell was at People for Pets-Magic Valley Humane Society Inc. taking photos of a pug up for adoption to put on the shelter’s website. She dressed up the pug in a gold chain and gold sunglasses, holding a sign that said: “I didn’t choose the pug life ... pug life chose me.”

She volunteers to take these pictures during her lunch break, hoping that photos with personality ensure the animals find homes more quickly.

The pug found a new home by the end of the day.


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