Staying Pawsitive

Staying Pawsitive

How one nonprofit is helping underserved neighbors and their pets

Photo by Beth Mann

Zeus. Grecian king of the gods … and also an adorable, palm-sized, Pit bull-mix puppy. A chestnut-colored furball who walked up to Veronica Terry and her daughter, ClaVonna, 21, at a bus stop.

For the Terrys, a family of nine, having Zeus was a breath of fresh air. He brought a new excitement and light into their home.

From the beginning, it was clear that Zeus Adonis Terry – that’s his full name – had found where he belonged. “ClaVonna and I instantly looked at each other and knew,” says Vernicia, 19, another daughter of Veronica and her husband, Clarence. “I guess you could say we have thing for Greek gods and Adonis, well, is this really handsome guy.”

Zeus was immediately welcomed into the family – he jumped into the children’s laps, gave out plentiful kisses and cheerfully galloped around in circles. But after that first week, he slowed down. He stopped eating and drinking and didn’t move much at all. And then one morning, Veronica found a trail of speckled blood that led to the 8-week-old puppy. Mighty Zeus had suddenly fallen.

Veronica is grateful that Zeus came into their lives. “We rescued him, and he rescued us,” she says.

“It was like, ‘What is going on?’” Veronica says. “It looked like someone had given birth.”

The family was afraid for their new addition. They discovered it was the life-threatening parvovirus, but they didn’t have the money to prevent the infection from killing him. So, they turned to the folks that had helped them out when they first found Zeus: Beyond Fences. 

Initially, the Terrys tried to locate his owner through flyers, but when a week passed by with no responses, Clarence called the shelter, and even the sheriff. 

“We can’t have a dog inside,” Clarence says. “I can have a dog outside, but I can’t have an indoor dog.”  Their family hardly had enough space for themselves in their three-bedroom home.

The sheriff advised that Clarence seek help from Beyond Fences, a nonprofit organization known for building fences for low-income families primarily in East Durham. With just one phone call, help came to their doorstep that same day. And Beyond Fences was there again two weeks later when Zeus contracted parvo. 

“What we provide is so out of the possibility for people financially,” says Amanda Arrington, the founder of Beyond Fences who recently received the 2018 AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Humane Award for raising awareness about pets in poverty and trying to help owners keep the pets they love. “That’s why we have a nonprofit – so we can bridge that divide between what people are able to afford and the costs of veterinary services. If it hadn’t been for Beyond Fences, the family would not have been able to afford the veterinary care.”

The organization celebrated its 11th anniversary this year and is currently assisting about 450 underserved families with pets, the Terry family being one of them. Their situation is no more unique than what is happening to hundreds of other families living below the poverty line in Durham.

“I live just a few miles away (from the Terrys),” says Greg Baxter, one of the 25 active Beyond Fences volunteers. “And there are stories [like this one] that are taking place that are affecting people’s lives just up the street [from me] that I would have never known about had it not been in people’s backyards pounding T-posts for this organization.”

Within two weeks, Zeus regained his health, but as soon as he recovered, the Terry family was evicted from their home. When Lori Hensley, the director of operations at Beyond Fences and the family’s personal contact, heard the news, she was devastated. Through Beyond Fences, she provided the family the extra money they needed to pay for the pet fee while they were temporarily living in a hotel.

The Terry family (clockwise from top left): Veronica, daughter Vernicia, sons Alijah, Marcellall and Benjamin, Zeus and Clarence.

“What you see with the Terry family is what we see every day with every family,” Lori says. “The struggles are different and the dynamics are different, but the love of the pet and the want for the pet to have everything [it needs] is there.”

It’s instances like this that have made Amanda and Lori realize it’s not just the pets they’re addressing, but the people who love those pets. “It became obvious in areas of Durham that there are high rates of poverty and low rates of access to animal resources, so there were a lot of people tethering their dogs,” Amanda says. “So the obvious idea, to me, was that we can just provide fences for people. And that’s where it all started. 

“I quickly realized early on that that was just a symptom – the tethering of dogs really was just a surface level physical manifestation of people needing access to options and alternatives for their pets.”

“‘Why did they get a house they can’t afford?’” Lori says. “‘Why did they get a dog if they were going to get evicted?’ You know all of these negative assumptions. They got a dog because it stumbled into their lives, and they wanted to take care of it.”

It’s been almost a year and a half since the Terrys found Zeus, who’s now almost 60 pounds. The pup has brought nothing but joy to their lives. Even if money gets tight, they’re happy – and a big part of that is owed to Zeus.

As the youngest child, Benjamin, 10, puts it, “What can we say, he’s just Zeus!”  

Hannah Lee
Hannah Lee is the editorial assistant at Durham Magazine. Born and raised in Winston-Salem, she attended UNC-Chapel Hill and double majored in broadcast journalism and German. She enjoys good beer, ice cream and morning runs.