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URBANA — Three dogs somewhere in Champaign County will have a better life, thanks to the work of a Savoy 17-year-old.

On Monday, Jake Seraphin delivered the results of his yearlong labor of love to the Champaign County Humane Society and can now check a life milestone off his bucket list: Eagle Scout.

“The Humane Society has always been important to me, and I knew this was a service element they provided to the community, and I thought it aligned nicely with the purpose of the Eagle Scout service project,” said Seraphin, a junior at Champaign Central High School.

What Seraphin provided for the Humane Society to give to pet owners in need was three doghouses, built to specifications.

“We keep those here at the shelter, so if our humane investigator goes out on a call (where a dog may be at risk), we start a dialogue with the pet owner to convince them to make it an inside dog,” said Humane Society Executive Director Mary Tiefenbrunn.

“That is not always going to work. If we can’t convince them to bring the dog in, we want to make sure they have appropriate things to keep a dog outside, like a doghouse and a heater for the water bowl, so the water won’t freeze.”

Tiefenbrunn said the Humane Society wants houses built using a long-employed blueprint that has a windbreak inside.

“The dog walks in, goes around a wall and into a nook that enables the dog to retain its body heat,” she said.

Seraphin said he didn’t really have any carpentry skills when he heard of the need, but he knew where to turn.

“I met with one of the leaders in my troop who’s a contractor with construction experience, Dan Byrne,” he said. “He was one of my biggest resources.”

Byrne is one of more than a dozen co-leaders for Troop 101, chartered by the Savoy United Methodist Church, where Seraphin and his family attend. Seraphin has been in the troop for six years.

He and his crew of fellow Scouts and advisers built the doghouses in a shed at the church. They are about 4 feet by 5 feet and 2 feet tall.

With Byrne’s guidance, Seraphin modified the blueprints to make the houses a bit lighter and easier to carry.

Blueprints in hand, he came up with a list of needed supplies and set out to get them donated, thinking he might need to visit several places.

“I went to (one box store) and met with the assistant manager and explained what I was doing. The guy took the sheet and said, ‘I’m a big fan of the Humane Society. We’ll be able to donate all this stuff,’” Seraphin said. “It was close to $400 worth of supplies.”

Seraphin said he’s been working on the project about a year but kicked it into high gear over the summer when he had more time to devote to it. A three-sport athlete at Central, he knew his time for the project would be limited once school started. Young men age out of Scouts at 18.

“We devoted over 175 hours to this project,” said Seraphin, adding that there were probably 25 people involved, including fellow scouts, his parents and his twin brother, Nick.

Part of earning the rank of Eagle Scout is to develop leadership skills. That meant not just diving in to do everything himself, sometimes the easier route.

“I had my crew ready to work, and I needed to step back, so I could see everything and plan step-by-step, so I didn’t get caught up in the first step and not be ready for the second. It was an adjustment for me,” he said.

Because of the doghouses' size, it took a tow truck to pull the troop trailer, usually filled with camping supplies, to the shelter to deliver them.

Tiefenbrunn said the Humane Society is thrilled to have them.

“We can’t build them in the moment for people. It’s not something we have in our budget. It makes a huge difference to the animal living outside,” she said.

Seraphin said if his family’s 7-year-old Shih Tzu, Owen, were an outside dog, he’d absolutely house him in one of his creations.

“I’ve always been partial to animals that don’t necessarily have a home. If I can help, that’s something I like to do,” he said.

Humane Society's capital campaign gets $100,000 bump

The Humane Society’s $1.75 million capital campaign to expand and renovate the existing animal shelter at 1911 E. Main St., U, recently got a big boost.

Champaign sandwich king Jimmy John Liautaud has agreed to match every donation received by Sept. 30 up to a total of $100,000.

The campaign is at 95 percent of its goal, said Executive Director Mary Tiefenbrunn, and she’s hoping the donation by Jimmy John’s and the matches will push it over the 100 percent mark.

A ceremonial ground-breaking event for the construction of a 5,700-square foot education building is planned for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 12.

Tiefenbrunn said an exact construction start date has not been scheduled but she’s hopeful it will be later this year and that once started, the work will be done in about nine months.

Liautaud said his family loves dogs.

“Our pups are a part of our family. They need the same attention, care and love as children do and, in return they give the same type of companionship and love,” he said.

This story has been updated to clarify Jimmy John Liautaud's planned donation.


Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).