Chained Dog SHEROES Series: Sheila Ehler, Missouri

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Sheila Ehler, chained at the Missouri Capitol to plead for better laws for Man’s Best Friends.

I’m excited that I get to brag up another of my Chained Dog Sheroes today!

What’s a chained dog shero, you ask? Well, it’s no small secret that MOST of the rescuers out there working on behalf of dogs in need today are female. And some of them are doing fabulous and largely unsung work on behalf of the voiceless—those shackled for life in backyards all across America. These wonderful ladies deserve some recognition, and our thanks and support, as I know just how heart-wrenching it can be out there on the front lines. A little happiness and encouragement goes a long way to a warrior who feels all alone in the battle for such simple and basic rights for animals as the ability to live free from chains.

I was lucky to work with Sheila Ehler for a few years during my time with Dogs Deserve Better, and I remember her—even before she became an area rep—always donating and taking action on behalf of chained dogs, when most just talked about it. She still is taking action today, as part of Unchained Melodies Dog Rescue, and she’s my featured SHERO for May.

I give the Sheroes five questions, so you can get to know them a little better, and hopefully be inspired and get new ideas from their successes. We can all be SHEROES for chained dogs, (yes, even the males, AND we welcome all transgenders, too! Ha!)

Here are Sheila’s well-thought out responses.

What made you want to fight for chained dogs? 

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Chance is one of the many dogs Sheila brought to health and happiness

Working as a hospice nurse in 2008, I was taking care of a patient in her home. Her family took in a puppy but didn’t take the time to house train her. They began to yell at the puppy and hit her frequently with a newspaper.  After a short time, the pup was banished outside and tethered to the front porch. I reached out to a rescuer I knew and she directed me to Melody Whitworth, a local rescuer for chained and penned dogs. I contacted her and she began to work with the family and eventually was able to take the puppy into rescue and find her a great inside home.  Melody then asked me if I would like to get involved and become a rep for Dogs Deserve Better.  Of course I agreed and that got me started in rescue work.

What accomplishments have you made on behalf of chained dogs in your area?

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Sheila comforts a chained dog

I was able to remove over 50 dogs from living chained or penned.  In one particular case, there were 9 chained dogs on one property.  With the assistance of a couple of other rescues, we were able to get 7 dogs unchained. A couple of the dogs were seniors (13 and 15 years old) and heartworm positive.  They were treated for their heartworms and both found forever homes as did the rest of the dogs.

I’ve been working for quite awhile to get an anti-tethering ordinance passed in a small, nearby town that is riddled with chained/penned dogs on nearly every street.  I’ve been met with much resistance but continue to work on gathering community support for an ordinance and also created a Facebook page, Helping The Chained Dogs of Moberly MO.

What steps did you take to make the difference you made on the dogs’ behalf?

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Jafar, one of Sheila’s rescues, on the chain

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Jafar, unchained and loving life, all dressed up for the costume contest

I spent many hours doing outreach, knocking on doors and working to develop a rapport with dog owners to better the life of the dog and/or get the dog relinquished. I would deliver food and straw every winter to dogs in need and check on dogs in the summer, giving food and flea/tick medication.  I would also attend as many tabling events as possible to educate the public on the detriments of chaining. I would always get at least one or two addresses of chained dogs reported to me during those events.

What was your hardest moment, the moment you wanted to give up, and how did you overcome it? 

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Sheila learned what it felt like for the dog to become entangled in his chain!

I wouldn’t say I ever wanted to give up but it was always frustrating and disappointing to not be able to help a chained dog because an owner refused help or wouldn’t relinquish. I had to tell myself to keep trying and keep going for those dogs. I once worked with an owner who had three chained dogs.  She agreed to relinquish two of the dogs but refused to let go of the other one, telling me she “loved him.”  Two years later, she contacted me to surrender the last dog. Never give up!

What would be your best advice for others trying to free dogs from chains?

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Sheila and I advocating for chained dogs at the state Capitol in Missouri.

Approach owners with a helpful attitude, offering a bag of food or other small gift to start a conversation. Work on developing a rapport with them and even if you are unable to get anything done after the first conversation, don’t give up.  Sometimes it takes many conversations but many eventually accept help or surrender the dog, finally realizing their dog deserves a better life.

Any parting words of advice for those wanting to make a difference for chained dogs?

Speak up for them. Talk to the owners. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching owners, contact others who can help.  Volunteer your time with a rescue dedicated to freeing the chained/penned/backyard dog.  Contact UnchainedMelodies.org for guidance/assistance or to volunteer. And don’t give up!

If you’d like to reach out to Sheila for advice or mentoring, she can be reached at Sheila.ehler@gmail.com.

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