February is Unchain a Dog Month.
I have a history with chained dogs. Snake was rescued from the end of a heavy logging chain in 1992. She had spent the first two years of her life chained to a tree, living outside with no shelter and limited socialization with the people who owned her. I suspect they were afraid of her. Rich worked hard to rehabilitate her and we grew to love her dearly. She always had issues due to those early years. We had to be careful with her around other people she didn't know and around other dogs. I'm no dog psychologist, but I presume that dogs have a developmental period much like that of children and when that development is not positive, it can have long term consequences. Snake had a wonderful life with us and I'll be forever grateful Rich saved her. She would have been destroyed in a traditional animal shelter. Had she remained on that property where she began her life, it's entirely likely that she would attacked or hurt someone at some point. She was a prisoner on the end of a chain on that property for almost two years and we'll never know the psychological toll that took on her.
My experiences with Snake cause me to have soft spot for chained dogs. It was years later when I learned about an organization called Dogs Deserve Better founded by Tamira Ci Thayne that I began doing slideshow work to help nonprofits. Tami had been arrested for taking a dying dog from a property in Pennsylvania who have been left to die in the end of the chain in a family's front yard. The family was never charged with cruelty or abuse, yet Tammy was arrested, criminally charged, tried and found guilty for having stolen the dog. Doogie (formerly called Jake) was not returned to the family and lived the rest of his days with love and care prior to his passing. Dogs Deserve Better later went on to purchase the former Michael Vick property in Virginia and it was transformed into the Good Newz Kennels.
In 2014 the law firm from where I work got involved in defending the City of Leeds, Alabama in the civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by the widow of World War II veteran Donald Thomas. Mr. Thomas have gone out to check his mail one day and was attacked mauled and killed by two neighborhood dogs. Police arrived on scene and shot and killed the dogs. It was soon discovered that the owners of the dogs had 33 other dogs chained in their backyard inside city limits. Law enforcement authorities and city authorities knew nothing about this, but the situation was not news to the neighborhood. People had been terrorized by the dogs for years and never reported it because they really felt like nothing would be done about it. The owners of the dogs were nice and apologetic each time the dogs got loose. They were later convicted of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. When I interviewed the neighbors they all told me that they felt an incredible sense of guilt that they didn't complain about the dogs running loose in the neighborhood, wondering if Mr. Thomas his death could have been prevented. This was the most gruesome case I have ever worked; some things can't be unseen.
As a result of my involvement in the Thomas case, I decided to seek local legislation in the city where I live to prohibit chaining of dogs and to provide for humane tethering of dogs to keep them contained. It took a while and it was a struggle to a degree. I live in a somewhat rural city with different cultures regarding how dogs are cared for. I took the subject to my city council in July of 2016 and our new ordinance was enacted in January of 2017, a point about which I'm particularly proud.The ordinance prohibits chaining, only allows for humane tethering and provides basic standards for dogs who live habitually outside. It's not perfect by any means. I would have liked it to ban perpetual penning which I also see as creating psychological problems in dogs, but in the end there was no real way to make that enforceable. When I drive around my city now I see dogs being cared for better and provided with basic standards. I would like to think that the odds of our city being the next Leeds, Alabama with a fatality attack are at least lower now that we have an ordinance and basic standards are being enforced not through the criminal provisions (violations are a misdemeanor), but primarily through public education.
When the time came for us to adopt a dog recently, we ultimately chose a formerly chained dog. His name was Shaggy when we first met him. We have since changed his name to Rusty due to the color of his fur. His Petfinder listing said that he was a two year old German Shepherd Husky mix and that he have been found running loose with a chain around his neck which was so tight that it had to be cut off of him. There were other dogs we considered, but ultimately we decided to pick Rusty because we knew he would have behavioral challenges and he may be at risk of being destroyed. He's been with us for almost four months and thanks again to Rich's skills rehabilitating dogs, he's made a lot of progress. He still has some of the behaviors of a formerly chained dog, but he lives inside and is making progress with each passing month. I shudder to think what may have happened to him had he not been adopted by someone ready to rehabilitate him. He's a very sweet dog, but some adopters may lack the patience to work through his issues and it's possible he would have ended up outside again or even chained again.
When I implore people to unchain dogs and to find other ways to contain them, my primary concern is about public safety. It is well documented that the dogs most apt to be involved in fatality attacks are dogs who are "resident dogs" who live outside and are not kept as family pets. Chaining dogs is opposed by every national animal welfare organization. The Humane Society of the United States, the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the ASPCA, the American Humane Association and numerous animal experts have spoken out against chaining and tethering because it is inhumane and can lead to aggressive behavior. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded in a study that the dogs most likely to attack are male, unneutered and chained.
Beyond the safety ramifications of chaining dogs, there is the obvious and very important issue of quality of life for those dogs. A dog is not a security system. If you want to use a dog to protect your home, bring the dog inside so that he or she will form bonds with your family and will consider your home his or her territory. If you have trouble house training your dog, get help. There are a variety of resources on the Internet to help you with this process and you can also interact with a trainer or behaviorist to get tips. If your dog wants to be outside or needs to be outside for parts of the day, take steps to keep him or her contained in a way which does not involve a chain. You can install a fence, use a pen (for short periods of time) or use a run or trolley line suspended between two points and property installed with stoppers at each end. Dogs who live outside for large portions of the day - or all the time - must be socialized to your family and to other people. If you don't have time to care for your dog, you really should not have a dog at all. If you still love dogs and want to have a dog in your life, consider fostering a dog for an animal shelter or a rescue group to help a dog learn new skills and to prepare that dog to be someone's beloved pet.
I’ve always had a soft spot for abused and neglected animals. I see us as stewards of the companion animals we domesticated and for me, there is just no excuse for treating them poorly. When it comes to owned animals, my position is that if you don’t really care about that animal and are not prepared to treat him or her as a member of your family or a valued partner in some way, you should not have animals at all. In doing so, I make no distinction based on income. I am aware of homeless people who take better care of their pets than do some celebrities who treat animals like furry accessories or as some status symbol, only to discard them when caring for them calls for too much responsibility.
The topic of chained dogs is one I’m particularly passionate about. It all goes back to our dog, Snake, for me. She had been living chained to a tree with a heavy logging chain in Northern California when Rich rescued her years ago with the help of a game warden. She was not socialized to people and we will never know how she was treated in her developmental months as a young dog. She had no fur on her neck due to the chain and she “pancaked” in the early days when Rich took her home. She was simply terrified. The veterinarian Rich took her to said her hair may never grow back. It did and she thrived in time with the help of the man who is my own personal dog whisperer and who, in all likelihood, is really part dog.
Every time I see a dog on a chain or a tether, forced to live outside 24/7/365 with no meaningful human contact, I ask myself one simple question: why? Why even have a dog if that animal is essentially imprisoned to a patch of dirt? It makes absolutely no sense to me and it is considered inhumane by every reputable animal welfare organization in our country. Dogs who are forced to live outside and confined to a limited space are not protective of the people who live inside a home near them. They become protective of the space in which they are forced to live. They do not make good living security systems who will bark when an intruder comes near. They are apt to either bark at everyone and every other animal or they do not bark at all. Dogs who live this way are considered “resident dogs” by subject matter experts like Karen Delise of the National Canine Research Council. They may not be aggressive towards the people who own them, but they can be incredibly dangerous to other people, with children and the elderly being most at risk of being bitten or fatally attacked.
February is Unchain a Dog Month. The second week in February is Have a Heart for Chained Dogs Week. In honor of this week and month, I am happy to report that a dog ordinance I have been advancing in the city where I live was approved by my city council last night. It is now illegal to keep a dog confined by direct-point chaining or tethering to a stationary object in our city. Dogs may be contained inside a residential structure, inside a fenced yard, in a pen or with a run or trolley line. In addition to containment methods, our ordinance has provisions for adequate shelter and nutrition and prohibits dogs being kept outside during dangerous conditions. This particular part of the ordinance is intentionally vague so it can relate to either extreme temperatures or weather events like tornado warnings. I would have liked to have the ordinance prohibit perpetual penning of dogs, but we could not find a way to include a provision like that and have it enforceable at this point.
A lot of people presume I advanced the ordinance due to my love for dogs and while that is absolutely true to a degree, it is not the whole story. I work in the legal field and one of the most gruesome cases I ever dealt with was in 2014 when we defended a dog bite fatality case. WWII Veteran Donald Thomas went to check his mail in September of 2012 and was attacked and killed by two dogs who belonged to neighbors. His wife came home from the store to find the dogs attacking her husband. She was unable to get the dogs to stop and called the police. An officer arrived within minutes and shot both dogs. It was too late. Mr. Thomas was dead. It was later discovered that the people who owned the dogs had 33 other dogs chained in their backyard. They were convicted of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Mrs. Thomas later sued the city for wrongful death. So yes, this issue is about animal welfare. But it is even more about public safety and about ensuring dogs are cared for in ways which keeps them from being weaponized.
If you keep your dog chained or tethered in your yard, please. Find another way to make that dog part of your family and keep him or her from becoming a public safety risk. If you are an animal advocate like me and you want to advance legislation in your own area to help keep your community safe and ensure dogs receive better care, have no fear. Take a chance and speak out for what you believe in. Dogs cannot speak for themselves and in the end, you are their voice.
(image courtesy of Dana Kay Mattox Deutsch)
I have been working on advancing a dog ordinance in the city where I live for about a year and a half. It is set on the agenda for the city council meeting next week for a first reading. If all goes as I hope, the ordinance will be adopted later this month or in early February. My pitch to my mayor and city council members for the ordinance covered four points: public safety, animal welfare, property resale potential and community pride.
I already have a page on my website about chaining dogs and I have another page about dog aggression, on which I cover the story of a WWII veteran named Donald Thomas who was attacked and killed by two dogs in Leeds, Alabama in September of 2012 when he went to check the mail. Our law firm handled the defense of a civil lawsuit against the City of Leeds. It was truly one of the most tragic and gruesome cases I have ever been involved with in over 20 years as a paralegal.
Some push-back I got recently about my dog ordinance from a woman in our city considered an authority on all things animal led me to cover this topic in a blog to help make the case for ordinances like the one I developed.
The complete ordinance is found here. The provisions are pretty simple and not at all unreasonable as far as I am concerned. If your dog lives inside, you are free to care for that dog any way you see fit. I would hope your dog is well fed, receives proper veterinary care and is treated as a member of your family. If your dog lives outside, that is another matter entirely. The ordinance sets forth the methods by which a dog who lives perpetually outside may be contained and may not be contained and it sets forth basic standards for housing and care. The state laws in Alabama do not currently define what constitutes shelter, are pretty lax related to what constitutes neglect, abuse and cruelty and do not prohibit direct point chaining or tethering of dogs. While I have every reason to believe a bill will be pre-filed by a state representative any day now which would prohibit chaining and tethering in all of Alabama, I wanted to take steps in my own community to set some basic standards.
So, why is it any business of any government, local or state, how you treat your dog? Here’s why.
Public Safety. Your dog may not be dangerous to you, but your dog can be dangerous to other people. Because of the chained dog’s minimal physical space and lack of socialization, these animals often become exceedingly hyper and aggressive. Dogs who are "resident" dogs do not learn to become protective of the people who own them who are living in a house. They learn to become protective of the area in which they are forced to live.
The reasons for actual dog attacks (as opposed to incidents of simple and avoidable injuries) are often complex, but the answer to preventing dog attacks is relatively simple: humane care and control of dogs is often all that is needed to prevent most dog attacks. A study by the The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in 2013 revealed the following statistics related to bite fatalities: no able bodied person being present to intervene (87.1%); the victim having no familiar relationship with the dog(s) (85.2%); the dog(s), owner failing to neuter/spay the dog(s)(84.4%); a victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog(s) (77.4%); the owner keeping dog(s) as resident dog(s), rather than as family pet(s) (76.2%); the owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog(s) (37.5%); and the owner’s abuse or neglect of dog(s) (21.1%). Four or more of these factors were present in 80.5% of cases; breed was not one of those factors.
Animal welfare. Dogs thrive on interaction with human beings and other animals. They need regular interaction with their family members. A dog kept chained (or confined to a pen 24/7/365) whether for hours, days, months, or years can suffer tremendous psychological damage. These sensitive and loving animals desire and deserve as much comfort and happiness as beloved indoor companion animals. Many chained dogs spend their lives connected to a six-foot or shorter metal chain. Under these limited conditions, dogs are forced to eat, drink, urinate, defecate, and sleep with no respite or companionship. They often suffer through blistering heat and freezing cold, rain, snow, and wind. Their "home" can turn into a filthy muddy mess, dust bowl, or frozen landscape.
Feeling vulnerable and threatened on a daily basis, many chained dogs will lunge at anything that goes by them. The constant lunging often causes the dog’s collar to tear into the skin and can, in some cases, become embedded in the dog’s neck, requiring surgery to remove the collar. In some extreme cases, the straining may cause injury or even death to the dog. Some dogs choke to death when they attempt to jump over fences and hang themselves.
Chained dogs are caught in a vicious cycle. The longer they stay chained, the less likely they are to have human companionship, thereby making it more difficult to handle them. The more difficult they become, the less likely a human will want to engage with them. They are caught in a downward spiral, not of their own making.
The Humane Society of the United States, the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the ASPCA, the American Veterinary Medical Association and numerous animal experts have spoken out against chaining and tethering because it is inhumane and can lead to aggressive behavior. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded in a study that the dogs most likely to attack are male, unneutered and chained.
Part of the opposition I got to my ordinance related to people’s inability to financially be able to comply. I know that there are cultural differences between generations and in some states related to dogs as inside animals v. as outside animals. I read a position once which said, "no animal is coming inside my house unless it’s going on a plate." I understand that people have different ideas on that subject. But having your dog live outside is a choice. If your dog lives inside and is part of your family, you have fewer expenditures to keep your dog contained. If your dog lives outside, there may be costs tied to that from providing adequate shelter or providing adequate containment if your yard is not fenced. I have a trolley line in the trunk of my car which I have been taking to city council meetings as a visual aid. It got it from Walmart for $15. If you choose to have your dog live outside, I want you to take care of your dog and help keep our communities safe. If are you are not willing to do both of those things, perhaps having a dog is not the best choice for you.
We call them man’s best friend. We need to treat them that way and we need to be mindful of how our choices affect those around us.
(images courtesy of Tamira Ci Thayne and Dogs Deserve Better, Inc.)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson