Building dog houses for a cause: A high school’s lasting impact in the North
In Northern communities where winters tend to be long and cold, dog houses are essential. Not every dog lives inside, but a well-made shelter can keep them comfortable. Thanks to an innovative project by a high school in Ajax, a few more dogs will have a comfortable place to stay warm and safe this winter.
In the fall of 2021, Alex Ladouceur joined the technology department at the Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School. He says he was looking for a project that would teach his construction technology class about traditional wood frame carpentry, and building science.
Due to space limitations in the classroom, Ladouceur says he thought of a unique project that would meet all his goals: building dog houses. The next question was what he would do with the dog houses once they were built.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could build dog houses with the students and donate them to dogs in need?’” says Ladouceur.
Finding a worthy cause
Through his research, Ladouceur says he was put in contact with Arista Wogenstahl, Regional Manager, Northern Outreach Services, with the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society. Wogenstahl provided Ladouceur with blueprints and schematics for the dog houses, including providing input to modify the plans to better suit Northern dogs, such as larger door openings. She also handled logistics for placing them in Northern communities where they are needed.
In the first year of the project, the class built three houses. In 2022, they built four, and this time involved the art department as well. When these dog houses reached Manitoulin Island, they were beautifully decorated with murals of Northern landscapes, painted by students.
“A lot of my students have pets, so for them to be able to build a dog house that will go to a dog who needs it, it’s just been great for them,” Ladouceur says. “It helps them be able to build a connection and really take pride in what they’re doing because they know it’s going to a good cause.”
Placing the dog houses
For the past two years, the Ontario SPCA has worked alongside partners in Northern communities to place these donated dog houses with families who need them. In 2022, the four dog houses were sent to communities on Manitoulin Island, thanks to support from Zachary Corbiere, a bylaw enforcement officer who works for the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising.
“There is a need for dog houses in these communities,” says Corbiere. “As a tourist-based rural area, most jobs are seasonal and there are not a lot of full-time, year-round positions.”
Through the coordinated efforts of the Ontario SPCA and Corbiere, the dog houses were transported from the school in Ajax to Manitoulin Island. From there, Corbiere says he worked with chiefs of the six First Nation communities on the island to find placements.
One dog house went to a family in Aundeck Omni Kaning, and another to Sheguiandah. The other two dog houses will be placed with people in Whitefish River and Sheshegwaning.
“He loved the dog house, the way it was made, the quality, and the artwork that was on it,” Corbiere says of one of the recipients. “He said he gets lots of compliments and people are always asking where he got it.”
Corbiere says Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School has inspired ideas to start similar projects in their local schools. He says he hopes the example of the Ajax high school will inspire communities and businesses to come together to make more projects like this possible. He applauds the support of Nestle Purina, Dunpar Developments and Ajax Pet Valu for helping bring his vision to life, as well as Durham Catholic District School Board and the Specialist High Skills Major program, which were also key contributors and supporters of the project.
“It’s just amazing how these dog houses impact the families of these pets and the community itself, to see these beautiful dog houses in the community,” says Corbiere.
The impact doesn’t end in the communities receiving dog houses either. Ladouceur says the project has altered the demographics of his carpentry class as well.
“Before, I was really struggling to get females in my class. I would only get maybe one or two girls. Now, this year, partly because of the dog houses, I have an all-girls construction class, because we had so many girls interested,” he says.
Ladouceur says many of these young women became interested in learning carpentry after painting murals on the dog houses last year.
Looking to the future
Ladouceur says he hopes to raise enough funds from local businesses to build five dog houses this school year with the students. He says he also hopes to encourage other schools in the Durham District School Board to get their students involved.
“If I could get four or five schools on board, making five dog houses a year, I think that’d be awesome,” says Ladouceur.
Your dedication and support
It is with and because of your dedication and support that helpless animals are being saved. Thank you for everything.