CALAIS, Maine - Three years ago, Heeja O’Leary was devastated when her Maltese dog died.
But rather than focus on the sadness of the loss, O’Leary decided to start a memorial in honor of Mindy. Her plan was to build a dog run at PAWS Humane Center on South Street. That was nearly two years ago.
O’ Leary raised more than $5,000, and construction began last summer.
On Friday, O’ Leary toured the facility that her husband, Greg, built.
“We try to do something for dogs. Not just me, I think my husband did the most. Poor thing, he really did it all,” O’ Leary, who was born and raised in Korea, said Friday.
Greg O’ Leary was quick to point out that he didn’ t do it all alone. He said he received help from his pal and golfing buddy Jerald “Butch” Garriott of Robbinston and members of the Youth Works of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., who were in the area working on community projects. He also received help from students and instructors at Washington County Community College.
However, anyone who watched the project day-by-day often saw O’ Leary by himself. For months, armed with a chain saw, O’ Leary leveled trees in a wooded area behind the shelter. Rather than strip the land, O’ Leary decided to use as much of the natural area as possible, so he laid out an octagonal section.
Then the snow began to fall and work on the project stopped.
As soon as the ground dried out this spring, O’ Leary was back at it.
“We built a bridge and went into a beautiful area of mature spruce and cedar, underbrushed it and cleaned it up,” Greg O’ Leary said Wednesday. “It is an all-natural environment. The only thing that is not natural is the chain-link fence that keeps them in.”
Now completed, the run covers 1,600 square feet.
“It is so much cooler back under the trees. It will be great for the dogs,” he said.
In the past, the shelter had only a small fenced-in yard with one tree. Most of the time the dogs rooted around outside in the sun. Now they can romp under the trees, sniff at the roots and occasionally lift a leg.
Joining Heeja O’ Leary on a tour Friday was PAWS volunteer Robyn Dufour.
“This is excellent,” Dufour said. “I am so pleased to see these dogs running and playing in the back. This is just so natural for them.”
A dog named Yeller jumped up and gave Heeja O’ Leary a big kiss on the chin. Heeja O’ Leary smiled as she watched the dogs run.
The O’ Learys were able to save some of the money they raised. So last year, they donated $1,000 to PAWS to help with its operation and Heeja O’ Leary said Friday they had another $1,000 left over from the project that also will go to the shelter.
The O’ Learys said they were grateful to all of the money people donated to the project. “Without them we could not have achieved [anything],” Heeja O’ Leary added.