A Sonora High senior is combining his love of animals and interest in welding to help a local nonprofit organization save the lives of more dogs and cats.

Erik Crabtree, 17, plans to create six metal kennels that will house up to about 12 dogs in the new quarantine room at the Friends of the Animal Community’s rescue shelter in East Sonora.

The organization rescues pets from animal control in Tuolumne, Calaveras and Stanislaus counties and finds new homes for them to reduce the number of euthanizations.

Its shelter in East Sonora can currently hold a total of about 25 dogs.

Crabtree’s family has fostered more than 500 dogs for FOAC over the past five years, according to Darlene Mathews, founder and president of FOAC.

“They’ve been a godsend for our big dogs with puppies,” Mathews said of the Crabtrees.

Mathews said the work that Erik Crabtree is doing will allow them to convert a spare room at the shelter into a quarantine area to keep pets for several days of monitoring after they take them out of animal control.

The additional space will also create an overflow for dogs that are going to be part of the new Prisoners Uniting People and Puppies program at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, where inmates are fostering and training dogs for FOAC so that they can be adopted.

Mathews started FOAC in 2001 because the euthanasia rate at animal control was high and there were no private rescues in the county.

The group was mainly a collection of foster homes before an anonymous donor gifted them the property and building for the shelter at 14841 Mono Way in February 2016.

“We call her our angel,” Mathews said of the donor.

Mathews said the group operates on a small budget with one paid employee at the shelter and at least 60 active volunteers who foster animals, walk dogs, do veterinary work, operate FOAC’s website and social media page, take photographs and more.

The group has needed more kennels to utilize the additional space at the shelter for a quarantine area, so Mathews said they were excited when Crabtree approached them about the idea.

Crabtree has spent about $390 on supplies to build the kennels, such as about 240 feet of steel square tubing. Most of the money so far has come out of his own pocket, though he’s received some donations from asking local businesses.

He anticipates needing another $600 for roughly 60 feet of tubing, fence panels and metal hinges, which he plans to pay for with a mix of his own money and donations.

Crabtree started welding the kennels together at the shelter last week and plans to work on them once or twice per week after school when he’s not working at his part-time job as at Les Schwab Tire Center in East Sonora.

Welding has been an interest of Crabtree’s since he took a welding class his freshman year.

He’s produced a number of items since taking that first class, including a barbecue smoker trailer for the school to use at events, a couple of bumpers for trucks, fire pits and a plant archway.

“It’s something I’ve been good at since I started and it’s fascinating how the metal fuses together,” Crabtree said of how his interest in welding developed.

Crabtree wants to be a professional welder after he graduates from school later this year and has applied for an apprenticeship to do pipe-fitting that would entail five years of on-the-job training and two night classes per week.

The FOAC project is part of Crabtree’s senior project that’s required for graduation.

He also wrote a six-page research paper as part of the project that discussed how spaying and neutering dogs helps reduce the amount that are in shelters and looked into no-kill shelters and puppy mills.

Crabtree said he plans to complete the project by the end of the month, after which he will have to give a presentation for his teachers explaining how the project affected him.

“I hope after I’m done making these, they will be able to bring in more dogs and expand,” said the 6 foot, 5 inch varsity football player while cradling a 5-week-old rat terrier in his hands at the shelter.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.