(HAPPY TALES) — When Mikael Hardy saw dogs chained and suffering all around her home in South Carolina, she decided to start freeing dogs by giving them fenced in yards. A nice spacious yard makes a mad dog happy! — Global Animal

Tonic, Diane Herbst

Mikael Hardy was horrified to see how many people near her home in South Carolina kept their dogs chained up, outside, every hour of every day. So she got up off the couch, knocked on their doors and did something about it.

When Mikael Hardy (right) moved from Atlanta to Greenville County, S.C., she discovered a frightening way of life. Some of her new neighbors kept their dogs chained up outside every day and every night — oftentimes emaciated, sad creatures with empty water buckets and no food. “I saw all these chained dogs, and I said, ‘What is this?'” Hardy says. “I knew I needed to save them.”

Last year, Hardy, 40, started knocking on doors, asking these neighbors if she could build them a fence, get their dog spayed or neutered, and provide dog food, toys and veterinary care. For free. “At first they thought there was a catch,” she says. “They probably thought I was on crack.”

Since August of 2008, however, Hardy has persuaded almost 60 different owners to allow her to build a fence and provide romping room for some 70 dogs. The only requirement: each owner must spay or neuter their dogs before construction begins, paid for by Hardy and her nonprofit, PAWSitive Effects. Incredibly, Hardy has a 90-percent success rate. “We’ve approached this as a friendly venture, I keep on talking and eventually they say yes,” she says in her fast Southern drawl. “It is just so emotionally and physically abusive to keep these dogs at the end of a chain.”

For her first few fences, each 600 square feet, Hardy borrowed money from her mother. “

We had no money,” says Hardy, whose husband, Brad, 40, two teenage children and a loyal group of volunteers all pitch in to build the fences, which cost $400 a piece; medical costs for each dog is another $130. “The people she builds the fence for are so grateful or so thankful, and they can’t help but notice the change in their dog,” says regular volunteer Jami McLean, 32, a human resources manager for a Fortune 500 company.

“You have a dog that is snarling, defensive, and as soon as you release him into the fenced area, the dog changes immediately,” she continues. “They begin running around, sniffing, throwing their toys in the air. It is by far the most rewarding part of building the fence.”

Most everyone Hardy has encountered who chain their dogs are uneducated and poor. They tell her the dog is chained for protection. Or they need the money from the puppies. Hardy’s gift of gab works wonders. “I tell them it’s a lot easier for me to break in if they are chained,” she says. “I tell them no one wants the puppies, they just end up in a shelter.”

When not building fences, Hardy juggles co-owning a flooring company with Brad, and raising daughter Tatum, 13, and son Tyler, 14, who has bilateral ophthalmia (no eyes), autism, obsessive compulsive disorder and a low I.Q. Both kids work on the weekly fence-building projects, with a waiting list through September.

“Tyler tells people what to do,” says Hardy, laughing. The Hardy family also includes eight dogs — four rescued from living

on a chain. “It’s hard not to gush about Mikael and the whole Hardy family,” says McLean. “You see Tyler, with a lot of obstacles to overcome, and not once do you hear the kid say ‘I don’t want to do that.'”

Hardy tackles each home that she visits knowing the result will be a fence. Occasionally, she skips the fence and rescues the dog. One dog (above, left) was all skin and bones, so thin that her front left arm slipped through her collar, which embedded deep in her skin. Sores enveloped the pup’s body. “I said, ‘Keeping a dog like this is illegal,'” Hardy recalls.

The owners gave their dog to Hardy, who found a loving family — one that includes two dogs and a 30-pound cat — to adopt her. However, an angry Hardy pressed charges against the owners, who were allowed to settle their case and 30 days later obtained another dog — who they chained up. Says Hardy: “It’s deplorable.”

Hardy’s efforts are part of a burgeoning number of volunteers across the US working to let chained dogs free, sometimes with unintended results. Hardy had volunteered for the Pennsylvania-based group Dogs Deserve Better, whose founder was convicted of theft in 2007 for rescuing a chained, dying dog who could not stand, refusing to return him to his abusers. Hardy’s experience with the group eventually led to her founding PAWSitive Effects.

Since Hardy built her first fence last year, she has raised and spent some $45,000 — all from private donations. “At least I’m making a dent,” she says. “At the end of the build, when I put that dog in that fence, you’ve dramatically improved that dog’s life. It makes you feel so good.”

To take a stand and help Mikael better the life of local pups, click here to donate.

Photos courtesy of Mikael Hardy.