A building project to “paws” for – Seaforth High School builds dog house for ARC

By Randall Rigsbee

Pittsboro, NC – Seaforth High School carpentry students recently completed construction of a spacious new doghouse which now sits at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office’s Animal Resource Center (ARC) in Pittsboro. The doghouse serves as an example of a sturdy shelter which county residents can use as a model for building one of their own.

From left to right are ARC volunteer Chris Dionigi, Seaforth High School carpentry teacher Mark Riggsbee, students Ellie Cook and Oliva Dennis, Animal Resources Officer Reid Kirkman, and ARC director Karen Rogers.

The project was the result of several community-minded forces coming together for the common cause of creating something to enhance the lives of Chatham County’s canine residents.

“The county requires that pet animals have proper shelter,” explained Chris Dionigi, a resident of Governor’s Club who volunteers weekly at the Animal Resource Center. “So, we wanted to have a nice example of a doghouse that we could display at the ARC and show people. Kind of like, ‘Hey, here’s something you can build yourself if you’re looking to shelter your pets.’”

Plans for the doghouse are available on the Lowe’s Home Improvement web site.

To make the project a reality, Lt. Brandon Jones, who worked alongside Dionigi on the effort, contacted Mark Riggsbee, a carpentry teacher at Seaforth High School, to gauge his interest in making the doghouse construction a class project. Riggsbee was immediately on board.

Dionigi also got in touch with Eddie Pulley, manager of Lowe’s Home Improvement in Pittsboro, who agreed to donate the materials needed for the project, including all the lumber and hardware. “It sounded like a cool project,” said Pulley. “And we like to help out the community, so we were glad to supply the plans and the materials.”

The construction project was a perfect fit with the work Riggsbee’s students are doing, which includes building a small home for Habitat for Humanity.

The doghouse project was undertaken by carpentry students in Seaforth’s SkillsUSA Club. SkillsUSA is a nationwide partnership of students, teachers, and industry united in their effort to ensure America has a skilled workforce. The nonprofit education association serves, middle school, high school and collect students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service work.

Two SkillsUSA Club students – juniors Olivia Dennis and Ellie Cook – took the lead in the construction project.

“They can use any tool in here,” Riggsbee said of the pair. “And they needed very little guidance.”

“The work went pretty quick,” Dennis said. “We worked on it off and on – a little bit here and there — for about two weeks last semester.”

“It was a good feeling when it was finished,” said Cook. “And to know that it’s going to be used for a good cause and not just sit around the shop was also really nice.”

Dennis said carpentry is her favorite class and so having the opportunity to work on the doghouse fit well with her passion for building. “I just like doing something that’s hands on,” she said. “And it’s a good feeling to build something up and have that feeling of accomplishment. Like ‘I just built that!’”

Cook, who recently competed in a regional SkillsUSA event and plans to compete in an upcoming statewide competition, said she only recently realized her love of building when she enrolled in Riggsbee’s carpentry class.

 “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I think when you’re doing something fun and doing something that you enjoy you have more of a passion for it.”

The doghouse now on display at the ARC, 725 Renaissance Drive, Pittsboro is designed for a large dog, Dionigi noted, adding that the plans available online can be adjusted to scale for smaller animals, if needed. 

“This one is a really well-made doghouse,” Dionigi said. “It’s very functional, and we felt like this was a good design.”

Dionigi, who moved to Chatham County several years ago after retiring from a career in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began volunteering at the ARC after learning more about the center while participating in the Sheriff’s Training Academy for Residents (S.T.A.R.) program. 

Dionigi said his decision to participate in the seven-part, interactive program designed for Chatham County residents to learn more about the daily functions of the Sheriff’s Office, was life-changing. “The S.T.A.R. program is what led me to the ARC,” he said. “Taking the S.T.A.R. program was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Dionigi said he not only learned a lot of interesting things about the Sheriff’s Office through his participation in the program, but his volunteer work with the ARC that resulted has been an excellent experience.

“The animals are great,” he said. “People ask me if I have any cats or dogs and I say, ‘Well, every Tuesday I might have as many as 40.’ I love the animals. 

“But the real joy for me is working with the ARC staff,” Dionigi said. “They’re just excellent people and they take very, very good care of the animals. We move heaven and earth to find homes for the animals. What feels so good for me as a volunteer is I get to help them with some of the lower-level tasks that don’t require that much expertise, some of the things that the staff would love to do but frankly have more important things to do, like socializing the cats and walking the dogs and stuff like that. So, I get to help out on that, which helps the staff do the really important stuff. The other cool thing is when they have these great ideas that are really in addition to their mission, well maybe I can help them implement them, and that’s things like this doghouse.” Individuals interested in joining upcoming S.T.A.R. programs may pick up applications at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office during regular business hours or email to receive an electronic version. Downloadable forms are also available online at www.chathamsheriff.com and www.facebook.com/CCSONC. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, consent to a criminal background check, and be in reasonably good health to take the optional walking tours.