There are certain similarities between being a rugged ex-lineman and a tenderhearted home-finder for unwanted dogs.

Greg Mathis knows this. He’s both.

Mathis, now a system control coordinator at Georgia’s Jackson EMC, handled some soul-trying challenges during the 27 years he helped build, maintain, and repair the co-op’s powerlines. Those tasks were tough, frequently urgent, always necessary. And at the end of the shift, he knew he’d accomplished something; the glowing lights were the proof, and the members were grateful.

For the 100 or so dogs he’s rescued and fostered on his four acres in rural Jackson County over the last 10 years, the adjectives are the same. The pups come to him and his wife, Traci, in distress and in need of help. Instead of an electric grid, he builds a safe place with warm, sheltering dog houses, ample food and water, and security fencing. The dogs’ gratitude is undeniable, and when they leave him for a forever home, he knows he’s accomplished something important.

Mathis says helping dogs gives him the same deep human feeling as restoring power or fixing a system issue before it becomes a problem.

“There was need. You saw it. You answered the call. And why? Because you could.”

Greg and Traci’s fostering journey started with a broken heart in 2010, when the couple’s beloved Chihuahua passed away.

“That dog was our kid,” Mathis says. “We were left with an empty spot in our lives.”

To fill that void, they adopted Zoey, a brown-and-white Chihuahua mix. Zoey’s foster “mom” picked up on their caring hearts and tossed out the idea of them becoming hosts for dogs awaiting new homes.

They decided to give it a try. Mathis would build a couple kennels, and they would foster a dog or two.

“That idea lasted about two weeks, and we’ve been wide open since,” Mathis says. “When a dog comes to us, we take them in.”

Their foster family has never fallen below two, and it once ballooned to 28 because of litters of puppies.

When it became obvious they were in it for good, Mathis had a sign made for the house: “2nd Chance Dog Park.”

“It’s kind of a play on words. Our first dog’s name was Chance, and what we were doing with fostering is giving these dogs another opportunity, a chance for adoption,” he says.

Caring for multiple dogs of differing age, breed, size, temperament, and background requires a lot of help, both veterinary and logistical.

Mathis works closely with the Humane Society of Jackson County, which provides money for feeding and medical care and publicizes the dogs’ availability in newspaper ads and on adoption websites. Volunteers from the community, family, friends, and various organizations come to help. Mathis’s co-workers at Jackson EMC have even donated dog houses, food, blankets, and bowls.

“The only thing it costs me is my time. We couldn’t do it without the help we get,” Mathis says. “What we have here is not a business. It’s work that we are led to do.”

When a dog arrives at the Mathis home, one of the first things Greg does is make a name tag and place it on their kennel. When the dog is adopted, he nails the name tag to the ceiling of his wood shop. It’s a form of graduation.

Most of the dogs are agitated, scared, or neglected when they come in. Greg and Traci offer affection, compassion, and a predictable routine to gain the animal’s trust. It’s a process aimed at making it more adoptable.

“I know that for many, I might be their last hope, and I cannot let them down,” Mathis says. “My attitude is, they will live with me until they get a forever home.”

And then there are the dogs that “adopt” the Mathises. Such was Hagrid, a genial Labrador mix the couple loved from the get-go.

“We were fostering Hagrid for a home up in Maine. We hadn’t had a vacation in about 10 years, so we decided to drive him up there ourselves,” Mathis says. “He was the perfect dog for a road trip. He sat up and watched the traffic. No trouble.”

Then, about 15 minutes from the destination, Hagrid began whining, showing that familiar sad look the Mathises had seen far too many times.

“We both broke down in tears. We pulled into the lady’s driveway where he was going. I explained that we cannot leave this dog.”

The would-be owner was understanding.

Hagrid returned to Georgia from the 3,100-mile road trip with a new forever family and a new name.

“We now call him Buk.”

Mathis says he’s been able to spend more time with the foster dogs since leaving Jackson EMC’s field operations for the more predictable hours of a system dispatcher. He has been with the co-op 32 years, starting right out of high school.

“I am blessed to have such a great job that allows me the time to do this work,” he says.

So how long will Mathis foster dogs? It’s a question he has never really considered. It’s like asking a lineman how long they plan to pull wire. The answer often is, “Until I can’t.” Folks depend on them.

“It’s a commitment,” Mathis says. “I can take a dog and change its life. In return, a family can get a great pet. I do this because I believe there is a perfect home for every dog. We just want them to get home.”

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