It was Friday when I saw him for the first time. I backed down the driveway into the road, waved goodbye to the boys and there it was. A dog pen. On our neighbor's property. In which sat a yellow lab. In the rain.
We moved to our home only after being driven away from what we thought was our retirement parcel. Our state gives more legal rights to shooting ranges than to property owners and I just couldn't tolerate being forced to listen to automatic weapons fire while inside our home. Leaving was incredibly hard. We chose our new house because it's inside city limits (meaning we do have property owner rights), because it has a few acres and because no one near us had dogs living outside 24/7/365 on a chain or in a pen. So much for that plan.
I understand that I live in a region with cultural differences related to domesticated animals. I realize that some people were raised to believe that dogs don't belong inside because they are animals. But hasn't the time come to move past the 1870s? Haven't we learned enough about the intelligence of dogs and their emotional needs to do better for them than to imprison them in pens while denying their nature as pack animals?
Because of my job, I know far too well what happens when we force man's best friend to live as a resident dog, separated from our homes and more focused on a 100 square feet of dirt or the world found within the length of a chain than on anything else. I know about fatality attacks by dogs who were not properly socialized to people and who paid for our failings with their lives. The dangers of resident dogs are well documented by people much smarter than me. To me, forcing a dog to live outside chained or penned is abuse and simply abhorrent. If you put your dog in a pen outside for short periods of time in order to get fresh air and because you lack a fully fenced yard, I get that. But to put your dog inside a pen where he or she can only stand up, walk a few feet and turn around makes absolutely no sense to me. To force that dog to live in those conditions perpetually, regardless of weather conditions and with no human interaction beyond providing them food makes even less sense to me.
A dog kept chained (or confined to a pen) whether for hours, days, months, or years can suffer tremendous psychological damage. Under these limited conditions, dogs are forced to eat, drink, urinate and defecate all in the same small area. Because of the dog’s minimal physical space and lack of socialization, dogs kept penned or chained can become exceedingly hyper and aggressive. A penned or chained dog is not protective of the people who live in a nearby home. They are protective of and territorial toward the area in which they are confined. Left unsocialized to people on a regular basis, they can become aggressive toward anyone who comes near them, including unsupervised children.
The National Canine Research Council's investigations into dog bite-related fatalities reveals the majority of these tragic cases involved circumstances where owners failed to provide necessary care and human control of their dogs: 1) failure by dog owners to spay or neuter dogs not involved in a responsible breeding program; 2) maintaining dogs in semi-isolation on chains or in pens; 3) allowing dogs to run loose; 4) neglecting or abusing dogs; 5) maintaining dogs not as household pets, but as guard dogs, fighting dogs, intimidation dogs, breeding dogs or yard dogs; and 6) allowing children to interact with unfamiliar dogs.
My dog will never live outside. We keep him safe and dry. We provide him with the veterinary care he needs, the companionship he needs and he is a member of our family. He is not our child, but we are as responsible for his needs as if he were our child.
If yours is a resident dog, why do you even have a dog in the first place? I don't expect an answer to that. It just makes no sense to me at all. And it never will. Your dog deserves better than to be a prisoner in your yard.
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