Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to Make a Cheap, Sturdy Dog Pen

Today Marissa and I turned our hands to building a prototype dog pen for the shelter. We had previously built lots of play equipment for the Dog Agility Club, and hoped this wouldn't be too much harder. Wrong! This HOW TO isn't for the faint-hearted! However, if you want to save a lot of money, and you have a fair bit of time and at least one friend to help, the results are pretty fine!

A sturdy pen costs at least $200, and we need lots of them. Not in the budget! We are making this one from PVC pipe and wire fencing, and our total cost will be around $25. We're modifying as we go along, and would love your input as to how we can improve the next pen.

Here's Marissa with the materials. We bought a 20 meter roll of 1 meter tall wire fencing, since we need to build a lot of pens. This pen is going to be 1 m by 1 m, which will use 4 m of the fencing. Woohoo! Five pens for $700 pesos, about $55 US.

We decided not to roof the pens permanently. Our canine clients are pregnant and nursing females, puppies, and elderly dogs, and probably won't be jumpers. We plan to make a few separate lids that we can attach with plastic ties when needed.

We also bought 18 meters of 19mm PVC pipe, which the young man in the store cut to 2 meter lengths so we could carry it home. The project requires a little over 16 meters of pipe.

This pen requires 19 of these connectors. Make sure the connectors match the pipe size!

First step is to cut the pipes into 1 meter lengths. Maxi wanted to help!

Next step for us was lots of thinking, planning, experimenting, wondering, trying again, etc. We used masking tape to hold our experiments together. Whew! Finally we came up with a way to attach everything that seems to be sturdy enough.

We decided to make three separate PVC squares for the three sides. We weren't sure yet how to do the door.

Note the direction of the connecting pieces. The extra bit serves as a little foot. Orient the top and bottom the same, or the adjoining sides won't snug up.

Next we drilled three holes each through six posts, with will be joined to become three of the corners of the enclosure. Precision would be nice, but it's hard to achieve! We found it doesn't matter if everything doesn't match up perfectly. Just get as close as you can by pairs. The idea will be to connect the corner two posts with plastic ties that also tie up with the fencing. The top and bottom of each side don't need holes drilled.

The oddity in the back of the photo is a headboard converted into a dog agility jump! We don't use it any more, since we've discovered PVC, but it got us started.

To start the first side, we had to bend the wire fence into a U. Leave lots of overlap. Read ahead to see why. It turns out we had bought REALLY sturdy fencing, and it was almost impossible to bend! This may have been the physically hardest part of the whole project!

Next, slide in a pole. Pick a pole that does not have holes drilled. The next few steps will attach it all the way down with plastic ties. It took us about an hour to do this one pole. Not easy, but if we can do it, so can you!

Pinch the wire together with pliers and attach a plastic tie to across both X's. This is a two person job!

Now pinch and add a second plastic tie around the next pair of X's horizontally. This is why you make the original U quite long, so you have two separate sets of X's to twist tie together.

Straighten out and pinch together the loose end of the wire fencing. Wrap it as tightly as you can with many wraps of duck tape, at least ten times around. We don't want either the dogs or the volunteers to be cut by these sharp wires!

Repeat until the whole pole is attached. Whew! Like I said, it took us a good hour to do this one pole, though we did get faster and and the joins got prettier with practice. Marissa is a medical doctor, and it got to be a bit like suturing up after an operation! The good news it that you only need to do this twice for the whole pen. The rest of the joins we just tie three times and keep going.

Flatten the fencing as best you can along the first side and attach it at the top and bottom with plastic ties. We'll go back and add more ties later. We have a lot of young volunteers, and this is something they can do. They can also cuts the ends of the plastic ties and wrap the joins with duck tape for even more security.

In the first corner, attach the two sides with plastic ties through the two sets of holes AND through the fencing. A trick is to get all three ties through the four holes before you start tightening them.

Once the corner is cinched up, press on the fencing to mold it into shape. You can see now why the connectors have the be lined up as they are. Otherwise they would push the corner poles apart. You could use elbows here instead of T-connectors.

Repeat the process for the next side. First attach the fencing top and bottom to the pole with plastic ties. Wire up the corner. Lastly, push the fencing into the 90 degree angle shape.

You now have a cube with three sides, sort of. The fencing was so strong that we realized we'd need some sort of fourth side, and not just a great big door. We added short extenders to the fourth side corners so we could put a bar on top for added stability. We also plan to brace the upper corners with bolted wooden cross pieces, as shown in red on the photo. No braces on the bottom corners, as the dogs will just chew them up!

We cut two more one-meter posts, and two shorter posts, 22 cm, and attached them into a rectangle just like the other sides but narrower. We also cut another very short post to match the height to the crossbar (1). We still need to cut the top bar and put in the connector (1). Tomorrow we will wire around the corner as before (left side of photo), and then we'll close off with the time-consuming wrap around the end pole (2).

We still haven't figured out how to do the door. Please send your suggestions!! I tried the wire rack from my stove, thinking we could get old ones easily, but it's not tall enough. What repurposing ideas can you suggest??

We do have an idea for the next time to place the door in the middle of a side. By bracing all four corners, we hope to not need a bar over the doorway, which will make it easier for humans to get in and out. When we get one made, I'll post a photo.

Also, we are placing hooks along the concrete walls to attach the cages with plastic ties. That way we can move the cages into whatever configuration we need at the time, and the dogs won't be able to move the cages around.

These cages are quite large, and will be fine for all but the largest dogs. Our next project is to make an enclosure that measures 1 meter by 1.5 meters, which we think will be perfect for mamas with litters. The maternity ward has room for five litters at a time. Lots of building to do!

Thanks for stopping by today! If you have questions, suggestions, or other thoughts, please leave a comment. We are looking for all the ideas we can get!

You may be interested in these related posts.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Electricity for the RCA Dog Shelter!

If you missed the first post, we are opening an urban dog shelter in the city of Colima, Mexico. I'm the only non-Mexican citizen involved, and am hosting this blog in English so you can read all about our Safe Haven for Puppies and Good Old Dogs!

Today they are installing the electricity! Because the house was empty for three years, all the wiring and copper water pipes had been stolen. 

Remember that we are working on a shoestring! This is enough wiring to connect up one light and one electrical outlet in each room. Yeah!

First the outside needs to be wired. Everything will be inspected by the city authorities tomorrow.

Hooking up the electrical box inside the house.

Wiring up the ceiling fixture in the lobby.

Adding the switch for the light in the kitchen/surgery.

Lots more to go, but you get the idea! In case you live in Colima, the contractor is the very friendly, efficient, and reasonably priced Leonardo Peña. Here's his card.

There are tons of details to opening a shelter. We also went out today and bought materials to construct enclosures for the dogs.

We estimate the total cost of a 1 meter by 2 meter enclosure, suitable for a mama dog and litter, at around $30. Come back tomorrow for step-by-step photo instructions!

We've also begun to receive donations of paint. A local store sells returned paint for half price. We're also hoping anyone with a little left over at home will bring it by. If you are familiar with Mexican buildings, you can begin to imagine the colorful shelter we're going to have! Some of our volunteers are talented artists, and we have plenty of walls for awesome murals! Friday afternoon we plan to finish cleaning the walls, and Sunday is our first painting day.

If you'd like to read about our adventures in dog rescue in Spanish, please visit our Facebook page at Amigos de Perros y Gatos Colima.

Thanks so much for your interest and support. I'd be happy to receive your comments and suggestions, and to answer any questions. Have a fantastic day!!

Before Photos of the Refugio

If you missed the first post, we are opening an urban dog shelter in the city of Colima, Mexico. I'm the only non-Mexican citizen involved, and am hosting this blog in English so you can read all about our Safe Haven for Puppies and Good Old Dogs!

Here are a few photos of the RCA, Refugio Cachorros y Abuelitos, on the day we first talked to the owner about renting the facilities.

Marissa with my two dogs, Gemma and Maxi, in the main room of the house.

The carport, which will become our lobby area.

Another shot of the main room from the opposite corner.

The future maternity ward.

The future quarantine room.

It's a jungle out there!

More of the jungle. All this was cleaned up yesterday into a lovely, spacious play yard for the dogs!

So that's the before. I'll keep posting photos as we move forward. Countdown: Just a few more days until we have water and electricity. Friday we finish cleaning the walls. Saturday, we paint. We hope to be able to accept a few dogs very soon. Some in need of immediate refuge are pulling our heartstrings...

The grand opening, complete with TV, politicians, newspapers, radio, all the neighbors, veterinarians, university officials, vet students, the state Council of Veterinarians, other rescue groups, and anyone else we can think of to invite, is scheduled tentatively for August 11, 2013! Woohoo!

Please feel free to share your comments, questions, and contact information about your own rescue group. We'd love to have a lively discussion!

For information in Spanish, please check out our Facebook page at Amigos de Perros y Gatos Colima.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Starting a Dog Shelter in Colima, Mexico!

Welcome to our brand new blog!

Shortly before midnight on July 10, 2013, I signed the papers to rent the building which will become our urban dog shelter in Colima, Mexico. The TO DO list is six pages long, and our all volunteer group is working 24/7 to get everything in place to open on 01 August.

Several friends have asked me to document the process of creating an animal shelter. We are doing everything on less than a shoestring! Total start-up cost, including a year's rent in advance, will be under $2000. Used, homemade, and donated are the mantras, except for medications which are the bulk of the costs.

We've applied for non-profit status in Mexico for our association. The shelter is one branch of our goals, which also include sterilization and vaccination campaigns, educational outreach, and promoting the many animal organizations in the state through our very active Facebook presence. The Facebook page is in Spanish, but the photos are universal if you'd like to take a look.

Here's the story of our exciting first day, working to clean out the three-year-abandoned unfinished house that will in less than three weeks be home to many rescued dogs. FYI, by policy, I don't share names or personal information about children in photos. All photos are published with permission.

First step was to clean up the street view. The house was overrun with weeds, and we figured the other houses on the street would be happy to have a more presentable neighbor! As a side note, the neighbors have been very welcoming and friendly. It helps that I live a half-block away and already know many of them. The last thing we need is complaints to the city about our dogs, and we're hoping to head those off before they occur.

We started by sweeping out the premises. Sounds simple, but three years of dust and debris filled about 12 large garbage bags! Pictured here, Marissa Lepe Preciado, is the president of our association. She's a medical doctor studying to become a veterinarian, and a driving force behind the shelter.

Some of our best workers were neighborhood children! These two lovely sisters have a boxer named Chacho who loves to participate in our Dog Agility Club on Saturdays. They were the first to arrive this morning, and worked like Trojans all day. I explained the meaning of "trooper" to them; these are two girls we definitely want on our team!

We thought we might have to stop after sweeping, since the water isn't connected yet. But one of our neighbors stepped in and let us run hoses from her house. Thank you!!

To say we all got soaked is an understatement! Luckily, it was hot as blazes, and nobody minded. We swept the soapy water into the shower drain in the bathroom. It never stopped up. Whew!

Marissa and Sol are working on the front bedroom, where we'll keep the new dogs in quarantine pens until their blood tests are complete and we're sure they won't spread any diseases.

This is the back bedroom which has about three times the space you can see in the photo. This room is our maternity ward, with room for at least four litters in spacious enclosures with space left over for another large fenced area for random puppies. A wonderful volunteer family is donating a special paint for the floor, which will help us keep the room spotless.

Turning lemons into lemon trees, this small unconcreted area in the lobby worried me a bit until we decided that it will be the perfect indoor garden!

Here the whole team is scrubbing out the kitchen area, which will be our consulting/surgery room. Our hope is to have vets onsite most of the time. We're offering recent vet graduates (top of the class!) free space in exchange for taking care of our animals and for providing low cost services for local residents. Win, win, WIN!!

This will probably be an open area for our older dogs. Our plan is to take in pregnant females, mothers with litters, abandoned puppies, and older difficult-to-adopt dogs. We want to provide the best possible start in life, and the most comfortable end of life experiences for our shelter animals.

My favorite photo of the day! Our youngest volunteer really putting her back into her work! Mexican families raise great kids!

In addition, the huge room will be excellent for spay/neuter campaigns, with space for up to five simultaneous surgeries. The lobby (aka carport) will be a great recovery space. Here are two of our young volunteers, speeding the suds and water out into the big backyard.

Tomorrow the yard will be cleared by a contractor. It's about as big as the house, plenty of play space for all the pooches. Since we also run the Dog Agility Club, you can bet we'll have lots of play equipment out back!

Mid-afternoon, another wonderful neighbor stopped by and offered to give us plants for all the front gardens. She has an amazing nursery in her yard, and our street front will be lovely in a few days.

Next step was to tackle the walls. The main problem was bat guano. Ugh. Our young volunteers put lots of muscle into the low parts, while the adults cleaned higher up. These aren't posed pictures. In six hours of work, there wasn't a single complaint. The kids believe in the shelter just as strongly as the adults, and they are proud to contribute!

In case you think it doesn't look that bad, here's a bit of wall before!

And here's the after. Not a very exciting picture unless you just cleaned this wall! By the way, in case you ever need to clean off bat guano, plain soap and water and a pot scrubber work best, even better than a scrub brush. We're planning to paint next weekend, using whatever bits and pieces of gallons and colors we are donated! Should be colorful! We have a couple of artists among the volunteers. Can't wait to see what they create!

Scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing! The carport/lobby is on the right, and the large main room on the left.

Another one of our young, eager workers! She's wearing our association t-shirt.

And here's the whole team! Woohoo! Can you believe this many people did all that work? Huge thank yous to everyone for an awesome first cleanup day!

Do you have questions about our association, Amigos de Perros y Gatos Colima? Any thoughts or comments on our new shelter? Have you ever managed or worked in a shelter? Can you give us some hints to help us avoid pitfalls and open smoothly? Please join me for a lively discussion in the comments!

Here are some great animal related blogs, websites, and Facebook pages. Please support them!