- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Think of classic cartoon personality Snoopy and you might picture him lying happily on top of his dog house.

But not all outside dogs have a special place like Snoopy does. That’s where Stacey Norris comes in.

Norris founded Houses of Wood and Straw in 2008. The group provides dog houses to outside dogs in the rural portions of Albemarle and nearby counties.

Norris remembers noticing the same stray dogs hanging around the neighborhood while walking her own dogs in 2007.

“I saw these barrels and saw dogs going and coming into them,” she said. “I realized they were living there.”

Norris contacted PETA to inquire about its doghouse program, which provides wooden houses and straw bedding for dogs that don’t have adequate shelter.

When she discovered that the PETA program doesn’t serve this part of Virginia, she asked for the house plans instead.

After building her first two houses, Norris was hooked. “I decided to do something bigger,” she said.

Nearly 400 houses later, HOWS is still going strong.

Norris finds helping hands from different corners of the community, receiving donations of building materials and straw from area businesses and getting building help from several Charlottesville and Albemarle Boy Scout troops and woodworking classes in Greene, Louisa and Albemarle schools. A group of women who work together on various building projects, including for Habitat for Humanity, also aids in the building and distribution of the homes.

Including what would be the cost for parts and labor, each house is worth about $100, Norris said.

The floor of the house is raised off the ground, with the house sized for the animal and the roof designed so that the dog can rest on top of the house. HOWS has given custom-designed homes to cats, goats and bunnies, as well, Norris said.

Each treated-wood house comes with a bale of warm, dry straw that functions as both bedding and insulation. The majority of the houses are distributed during the colder months.

More than just the physical houses, Norris and her fellow volunteers try to include education in their outreach.

Norris said the laws about outdoor animal shelter are basic and can be loosely interpreted. “There’s a requirement for shelter, but the type is vague,” she said.

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