As winter tightened its grip on Tennessee earlier this year, an HSUS-led initiative brought warmth to pets and the hearts of their owners. Across the state, families in under-resourced areas began receiving visits from local animal care centers, delivering insulated doghouses for their beloved companions, all provided free of charge.

While hundreds of thousands of dogs live outdoors in rural and urban areas across the country, the lack of a clear legal definition of adequate shelter for outdoor dogs in Tennessee had left both animals and their owners uniquely vulnerable. The law was open to interpretation by pet owners, law enforcement agencies and the courts, making it tough for authorities to enforce and for pet owners to understand. This ambiguity meant that enforcement efforts could sometimes be too harsh or not protective enough, causing harm to both people and animals. It also left many owners unsure if what they had—or what they could afford—qualified as adequate shelter for their pets.

But thanks to our advocacy and the support of state legislators, Tennessee became the newest state to define what constitutes proper shelter for dogs. The legislative win creates clear and reasonable expectations for the humane treatment of dogs, laying the groundwork for a more compassionate and equitable approach to animal welfare.

State authorities distribute shelters to underserved areas of Tennessee.
State authorities distribute shelters to underserved areas.
Jessica Hyder

Our work didn’t stop at changing the law. Our Law Enforcement Training Center spread the word among police departments about the importance of this new law so that they could apply it fairly and ensure that outdoor dogs are protected from the elements and extreme weather. And we provided education and resources in communities so that dog owners—especially those who for several reasons, including landlord restrictions, may not be able to always keep their dogs indoors—could get a fair opportunity to comply. Recognizing that economic barriers could prevent some families from providing adequate shelter for their pets, we went a step further by distributing free doghouses and insulation materials to underserved communities.

“We believe that everyone should be able to experience the joys and love that pet ownership can provide and that the law should not punish people for lacking some resources for their animals,” said Jessica Hyder, HSUS Tennessee state director.

By addressing the complex challenges facing companion animals through a multifaceted approach, we’re not only improving the lives of pets but also strengthening communities and fostering a culture of empathy and kindness.

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This was written and produced by the team behind All Animals, our award-winning magazine. Each issue is packed with inspiring stories about how we are changing the world for animals together.

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Cover of All Animals Magazine Summer 2024 Issue showing a dog outside.