Category Archives: Animals and Emotions

A day to celebrate love

 “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” ~ Mahatma GandhikittnrinbuudIt’s here.  The day the world celebrates love.  What better day to celebrate those who extend their love to all sentient creatures with whom we share the planet?Cat and the Billy GoatI have had the opportunity to witness amazing courage, grace and heart in fellow advocates for animals.  This is a day to thank them for their life-changing work. I have seen resilience and tremendous spirit in animals who have survived desperate situations and profound cruelty.cobeautifulbackgrdHumans use their passion to keep their hearts strong and open as they continue to wade into puppy mills, factory and fur farms to save lives.

Animals inspire us to bond without boundaries.horsecatsnug2 I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a day of love – named for a saint! – than by giving thanks to everyone who has endeavored in any way to better the life of any animal. Lori with Colony Cats and DogsAnd I cannot be more grateful to the animals, with their incredible capacity to forgive us and love us unconditionally.Cathy Unruh with lamb Happy Valentine’s Day!

Walking with Benny

Benny Salad Houdini has earned a new title:  Ambassador for Rescue Dogs.

This is an unanticipated consequence of his “house” training, which really means going out of Opening shot copythe house – a lot.  Small puppy bladders and immature muscle control mean small intervals between walks.  And for us, walking means meeting lots of people.  We live in a lovely waterfront city in sunny Florida where the sidewalks tend to be busy with friendly folks feeling good about both the weather and the surrounding beauty.  I hear an astounding number of admiring “oohs” and “aahs” – most of them directed not at the scenery but at Benny.

I knew that Benny was cute when we adopted him,greenbag

but I never imagined that his button face and fuzzy blonde body would actually exert some kind of uncanny gravitational pull over gushing humans. baseballcap

Knees drop to the pavement and hands drift downward through the air as Benny approaches;Redjacket

people want to touch him as though he’s some sort of talisman for happiness – which he is, of course!blonde

But all this exuberant adoration has its challenges.  We’re trying to train Benny to sit to be petted,  not to chew fingers or jump on people or deliver wet slurpy kisses without an explicit invitationStroller– but these suddenly lovesick humans don’t seem to mind if he breaks all the rules and climbs all over them in a wiggling, wagging, licking paroxysm of puppyness.  ChewToyI am constantly redirecting, refocusing, trying to train well-meaning humans as well as one extremely personable puppy.

The open-armed adoration also opened the door for Benny’s ambassadorship, a role I had not anticipated for him.  As admirers pet and coo, they almost unfailingly ask, “What kind of dog is he?”  I almost unfailingly answer, “He’s a rescue puppy – a Shih Tzu.” Adorable Benny This is greeted with amazement by an astonishing majority of people, who can’t conceive of such a dog being found anywhere but at a breeder’s.  That allows us (okay, allows me; Benny’s otherwise engaged) to explain that you can find almost any breed of dog you want through a rescue group or shelter, where an estimated 25% of all dogs are purebreds.  I explain that you can put your name on waiting lists at many shelters and get a call when the breed you are looking for comes in, or apply for adoption through rescue groups around the country, or start your search on a site like petfinder.com.  I recently read a story about a breeder who referred a couple to a rescue group when he couldn’t immediately meet their request for his brand of puppy – now that is progress!

with other dogs1But back to Ambassador Benny.  His work inspires and delights me.  He motivates people almost daily to say that they are going to start a search for their own rescue dog. He educates people who will almost certainly pass on what they’ve learned. He has taught me the power of puppyhood to change the world one dog at a time.  I’m imagining a movement where volunteers walk adoptable puppies and adorable dogs  through city streets and spread the word, just as we are doing.

walked out and conked outAs I write this, Benny is lying walked out and conked out under my desk.  An excited little “yip” escapes his mouth every once in a while.  I don’t know what’s happening in his sleepy puppy brain, but I am dreaming big dreams for him and all his kindred, dreams of a day where every dog finds a home – and we actually need breeders because there are no more dogs in shelters hoping to make it out alive.

Thank you, Ambassador Benny Salad Houdini, for helping to draw that day closer, one step at a time. ambassador

Happy New Year!

Whether you rang the midnight bell…

Or tucked away early….

May this first day of 2014 be more than happy for you!

If you can play with the abandon of a puppy, correct with the finesse of a cat, and apply your ingenuity to make relationships work, it should be a good year!

We hope this will bring you a smile to help kick off the New Year: watch now.

With love from our house to yours,

Lucy Miracle and Benny Salad Houdini

Peace in the Pasture

Think about your work for a moment.

Does it not only pay the bills but provide you a sense of identity? Is what you do a big part of who you are?  Are there some things about your job that you don’t like and yet you do them anyway?

peaceable kingdomharoldNow suppose that your work is a time honored family tradition.  You are following in your parents’ footsteps.  You are practicing one of America’s oldest and most entrenched professions.   You are putting food on America’s tables!  But those things that you don’t like feel so terribly wrong that you know you have to turn your back on tradition and make your own way. You must leave the home you’ve known in order to find the home where you belong.

This is the type of personal passage explored in the film Peaceable Kingdom:  the journey home.   Animal agriculturalists get in touch Harold Brown and Maxadjwith the sentient creatures they are “farming.”  That leads them to get in touch with themselves – and their own ethical sensibilities.  A cowboy goes vegan. A boy born and bred to raise animals as food instead launches Farm Kind. A couple turns their goat operation into a sanctuary.

These emotional, intellectual, and lifestyle choices do not happen overnight or easily.  They involve deep consideration, major upheaval and profound change. And in the end, they all feel really, really good.

You can share these experiences via Peaceable Kingdom, a documentary that reveals what happens on farms and invites us to reconsider our own choices.  As producer James LaVeck says, “We’ve seen firsthand how stories focused on justice and compassion can awaken the positive side of human nature…We can choose another way to live.”

pkim_wave_filmmakers

Jenny Stein and James LaVeck

LaVeck and director Jenny Stein are screening their latest film around the world – and seeing that people are making that lifestyle choice even in countries where consideration for animals is truly a foreign concept. “…people of all ages and backgrounds really don’t want to be a part of harming others, and the more they learn about who animals are and what is Sheep onTruckhappening to them, the more willing they are to include our fellow animals in their vision of social justice.”

Think back to abolition in America.  Civil rights. The vote for suffragettewomen. Social justice movements all.  Will we someday look back at what we did to animals and remember the time that justice came to them? LaVeck and Stein believe the answer is yes, for one reason or another; perhaps for many reasons.

Says LaVeck, “We’re living in an era when the growth of the human population, expanding material consumption, and the use of our fellow animals for food are producing devastating environmental consequences.  This crisis is forcing more and more of us to grapple with a basic moral question:  is what I get from the way I live worth the harm it is doing to others, not just now, but in the generations to come?  Many people who seriously ask themselves this question end up renouncing participation in the harm of others or wanton damage to the environment.  What’s great is that making this change is not that hard, and it’s good for us – it’s good for our physical and psychological health, and for our spirits.  When we stop taking part in harming others, we also stop harming ourselves, as we are all connected. This is something more of us are Poster with text[15][1][5]understanding every day.  So this is an exciting time to be alive, one in which our efforts have the potential to make a level of difference that is truly amazing.”

Torn about whether to watch Peaceable Kingdom? Don’t be. You don’t have to change just because you get informed.  It’s a choice.  But take it from me, a girl who grew up on a hobby farm and whose parents passed off my teenaged refusal to eat animals as a passing fad:  if you do make that choice, LaVeck is absolutely right.  It’s so good for us that we want to share it with you. If you haven’t already, how I wish for you to make that journey home.

The film Peaceable Kingdom airs on WEDU+ Sunday, December 22nd at 8:00 pm and again on Sunday, December 29th at midnight.

You can purchase the DVD here.

Watch my interview with Peaceable Kingdom’s director and producer on WEDU Thursday, December 19th, at 8:30 pm.  Additional airdates and times can be found on wedu.org. The show will be posted on the website after air.

Jenny Stein, James LaVeck and Cathy Unruh Upclose with Cathy Unruh WEDU

Jenny Stein, James LaVeck and Cathy Unruh

 

Puppy Love

“Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it…” 

Hal David knew what he was talking about when he wrote those lyrics – even though he had not met either Wee Willie Winky or Benny Salad Houdini.

Willie, our beloved Shih Tzu rescued from a puppy mill runner, died* Wee Willie Winkyunexpectedly at the age of 4 ½.  Losing this happy, active, loving companion caused heartbreak that all devoted pet parents understand.  The outpouring of sympathy indicated just how many of those there are, and while it comforted, it didn’t stop the tears for my husband and me.  That was a job for Benny.job

Tom was determined that our next dog be a male Shih Tzu like Willie, preferably a puppy.  I started searching via our local shelters and rescue groups – no luck.  I chased a couple of leads on petfinder.com – no luck. I filled out applications with rescue organizations – luck!  One group specializing in Shih Tzus and small dogs had a litter of not one but five male puppies ready for adoption (their pregnant mother had been turned over by a backyard breeder). We snuggled and played with all of the squirmy adorable ten week olds and then picked “Puppy #3” because he was especially little and seemed quite laid back. cutness

Our tears pretty much stopped almost immediately – and idyllic as it might sound, it was not because of love at first sight. It’s because there is no time for tears! My grieving husband was naturally ready to give this tiny blonde bundle of lovability almost anything he wanted, but Benny is an extremely smart and equally willful little guy, given to the bossiness that is frequently found in Shih Tzus. So Mom (that’s me) had to start showing tough love with both of her boys – no small dog syndrome in my family, please! (Small dogs can take over a house – position themselves as the pack leader – because we cave into their cuteness and fulfill their desires and demands without making them earn it.)

leashSo here in the midst of intensive training, I am massively Mommy proud that at the age of 13 weeks, Benny understands “sit,” “come,” and “make a good decision,” and actually follows those instructions much of the time.  He accepts a leash and the city streets with equal aplomb. He knows “do your business” and responds admirably – although getting him out to the grass is a new adventure in house sittraining for me.  I’ve never done it from a condo before.  Sometimes it feels like we live in the elevator, riding down and up, up and down.  Thankfully, my husband handles most of the middle-of-the-night excursions (probably because he doesn’t want my naked face and bed head to scare anyone).

Baby Benny earned his big boy name of Benny Salad Houdini because he loved his fresh veggie dinners from the first, and can’t get grassenough of the greenery outside either.  He munches grass and leaves as though he were a deer rather than a dog.  He covets the free roaming ways of a deer as well. He easily escaped every barrier we tried for his confinement room: netting, higher netting, dog gate.  Finally we had to simply shut the door. We’re still working on the separation anxiety; Benny spent his first ten weeks in a foster home brimming with dogs and humans.  Being alone for even a moment is a brand new experience.

But Benny knows how to amuse himself.  He is a champion chewer of everything within mouthing distance:  rugs, curtains, pant legs, bedding.  That means relentless redirection.  Anyone eavesdropping toyon me these days would think that, “Chew toys!” is my favorite phrase.  And that tossing them is my favorite exercise.  Our floors look like FAO Schwarz for canines.

And then there are the cats.  Lucy, who was Willie’s best buddy, stepped right up as second mother to Benny.    This formerly feral eaterystarving kitten always eats her entire breakfast right away and then begs for more.  But she started saving half of it so that she could teach Benny how to find the supposedly secret entrance to the cat feeding quarters and help himself to her bowl.  Undoing that (frankly charming) act of generosity and maternal instinct has taken some creativity.  Lucy is also teaching Benny to play in a way that’s lucyteachacceptable to cats, which involves a lot of wrestling but a little less nipping than he might like.

Fred took great delight in trying to teach “Chase Me,” at a running speed that Benny could keep up with.  That meant I had followto play blocker between them in order to teach both that chasing cats is not an acceptable game – even if the cat thinks so.  Nowadays they usually walk together rather than run. Usually.

Frisco is still keeping his distance, in classic Frisco style.  He’ll come around.

Raising a puppy properly is like swimming the Florida Strait (I imagine; I haven’t actually done that). It takes intensive, consistent training, patience, persistence, and some sleep deprivation.  It can be anywhere from challenging to tiresome to irritating  to repeat yourself a dozen times to get the result you want once, but well worth it. Here’s a real time example.

This is what Benny is doing, next to my chair, as I write this. bennywrit

This is what Lucy is doing, just above him on my lap.lucywrite

This is what Fred is doing, just above her on my desk.fredwr

This is what Frisco is doing, just off to the side. fredwri

You’ll notice that Benny is thoroughly relaxed and making no effort to upend the established social order. I’m not kidding us, though. Once the writing is done and everyone’s back to bouncing around, he’ll give doggy dominance another whirl.  But we’ll keep working at it, because a dog who knows his place is a happy, secure dog.  And after only three weeks, Benny knows his place: firmly in our hearts.hearts

*We are awaiting final necropsy results on Willie, but it appears that the cause of death was a heart irregularity.

Moo2Meow

I was at a conference when a large animal veterinarian told this true story:

The managers of a dairy farm were mystified when one of their cows would not give milk.

This was an operation where the animals were more fortunate than most, in that they got to go out to pasture each day, rather than spending their entire cattle-dairy-02lives locked in an enclosure.  As in all dairy operations, the cows were repeatedly impregnated so that they would give birth and produce milk.  After each birth, the calves were taken away so that the milk meant for them could instead be pumped for human consumption.

A mama cow who had been through the routine of turning in her babies before dutifully watched as her latest newborn was hauled away.  Yet when the lactating mother was hooked up to the milking machine, cattle-dairy-04she was dry.  This went on for days, with no apparent explanation.  But then came the moment when the baffled operators stumbled upon their answer.  One spotted a movement in the woods at the edge of the pasture and went to investigate.  Mama cow had given birth to twins.  Knowing what their fate would be, she had taken one for sacrifice and hidden one to save.

This Sophie’s choice inspires the new title for my blog.  Moo2 is in honor of this cow and her two babies whose stories evoked tears in nearly everyone who sat in the conference hall and heard it.

The title also means “moo to meow,” in that we talk about all animals here, from farm to family room; from the animals we think little of to the ones we greet joyfully upon our return home.  (That means the title could also be baa/chirp/oink/woof/snort/cock a doodle doo…and could quickly get a little too long. 🙂 )

I am grateful to each of you who share my compassion for animals and who read and consider these words, wherever you are on your own personal journey.  It can be devastating to face the truths of animal suffering yet also joyous to help alleviate it. As Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur recently wrote, humans possess a fundamental capacity to feel empathy, yet we sometimes turn it down when faced with the pain and suffering of others.  “The good news is that we are capable not only of turning our empathy down but also of turning it up…Empathy is like a muscle that becomes stronger as we use it.”cat and cow

Here’s to a great workout.  Get to know a cow.  Hug your cat. A big heart does a body good.

Thank you for visiting and for the e-mails you regularly send me.  If you are comfortable doing so, please reply here, as it contributes to community discussion. Most of all, thank you for caring.

Top 10 Reasons to celebrate National Feral Cat Day

10.  There’s a bit of wildcat in all of us.catwoman 9.   Mama cats are called Queens.  Nuff said.queen-cat-by-christina-hess 8.   Ear tipping is at least as attractive as ear gauging.eartipa
7.   Ferals eat outdoors – it’s a picnic!Cats on picnic table
6.   Trapping is great exercise.cathytnr
5.  TNR is trending.  Big time.trending4.  Helping the homeless is a higher calling.wingshalo2
3.  If the cats are cool enough for Rome’s palazzos, they’re cool enough for us.RomeCats_main
2.  Paws to appreciate.  Simple as that.lucylake
1.  Lucy Miracle and all of her relatives – of course!Litter of kittens hidden in tree

National Feral Cat Day was founded by Alley Cat Allies in 2001.  Lucy’s book, TAMING ME: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat, was released on this day one year ago.Taming Me cover

Note: I appre­ci­ate all of you who e-mail me with your com­ments – but if you are com­fort­able leav­ing a reply here, please do so. It con­tributes to com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion. Thank you!

September 11th: Sit. Stay. Enjoy.

CathywbabiescouchWhen this photo was posted on Taming Me’s Facebook page, I was struck by the ferocity of the following comment, including the capitalization of the imperative:  “DON’T MOVE!  Stay right where you are!”  I thought that Paula Booth, the follower who wrote it, must be a woman who knows the value of being in the moment, especially a moment in which one is cuddled up with loved ones, and perhaps even more so a moment when those loved ones happen to have four legs.

In this world of constant connection and a non-stop barrage of news, opinion and information, chores by the score and a plentitude of places to be and people to see, it can be difficult to stop and savor the moment – whether it’s an active moment or one like this, pinned on the sofa by pets. Lately I have found myself counting the days until something I’m looking forward to – and even as I do so, I know that I am detracting from the day at hand.  So I thought that this anniversary of one of the most grievous days in our nation’s recent history might be a good time to remind myself to Sit. Stay. Enjoy. Because who knows how many moments more there will be?

A friend was recently on vacation with her family in one of her favorite places – a house beside the ocean.  She sat on the beach, chattedJuliecropped with her sisters, enjoyed dinner with the entire clan, spent the evening teaching her little niece and nephew to play Chinese checkers and promised that they would play again in the morning.  It was a promise she didn’t mean to break, but the morning she imagined didn’t come. She was buried, dressed in her cheerful orange cardigan, on her 48th birthday. Julie had danced with cancer and its consequences for 30 years, and during those years, between hospitals, treatments and transplants, she gathered all the joy she could muster from life and spread a bunch of it around to the rest of us.

Focus Magazine photo DottieDottie – another friend – was, quite frankly, supposed to be dead by now. But she vowed, “I will be the miracle,” and she is.  Her passion in life is making homes for kids who don’t have them, kids caught up in a foster care system that doesn’t always have enough foster parents to go around.  She’s still busy raising money and building space to offer what is sometimes the most loving environment the kids have ever known.  Oh, and she also spends a fair amount of time sending little love notes out to her friends and relatives.  Dottie knows how to make the briefest moment meaningful. Karyn withmask

And then there’s Karyn.  She got a diagnosis last winter that would have put some of us under the table. But not Karyn. You’d go to visit her in the hospital and she’d give you a gift that she bought for you, in the hospital shop. She’d send you jokes via e-mail and text. KaryngreenbowlhatShe’d make funny faces and pose for pictures, sometimes with her room so packed with visitors you couldn’t find a place to sit down. Right now she’s planning a girls’ weekend and already has special bags waiting for each guest, stuffed with goodies. And she’s busy mothering her six dogs, all of them rescues; she created a special dog park at the shelter where she volunteers, for the ones she couldn’t take home.  Her household canines get hot cooked meals twice a day Kerynwithbroodand the entire pack is welcome in her bed – even if her husband has to get out of the way.  (He’s entirely good-natured about it.)

You know, my intent as I started writing this was to talk mostly about the proven health benefits of pets – lower blood pressure and cholesterol, healthier hearts, quicker recoveries, improved spirits and Lucy Fred and Willie copysocialization – and how animal companions can prolong and enrich our moments. But as I remembered the lives lost in the Twin Towers and the many souls worldwide suffering from conflicts, poverty, illness and disasters even as I type this, my fingers just seemed to want to talk about the people who endure, inspire, and continue to bless us even when they’ve passed on, as we all must do. I think I’ve been giving myself a little sermon. Thank you for sticking with me.

And please allow me one final mention of (another) friend. She recently gave me a book on mindful meditations, arranged by month.  September’s opening quote is from the Buddha:  “Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.”  Thank you, Buddha.  I’ll try harder. Thank you, my friends, for your generous spirits. Thank you, PAULA BOOTH! I think I’ll go round up the critters so that we can Sit. Stay. Enjoy.LucyCathyeveryday

A Bird’s Eye View

I’ve spent a lot of time at my kitchen sink the past few weeks.
1treekitchenYou’d think I’m a woman who likes to wash dishes – which actually I do, if there aren’t too many.  I appreciate the instant gratification of turning a dirty plate clean, the warmth of the water, the tickle of suds on my hands.  But it’s what unfolded just beyond the window by the kitchen sink that captured my attention, a family reality show playing right there through the screen: The Robins Raise their Triplets.

2mama nestI was a little slow tuning in.  Mama Robin’s red breast caught my eye one morning as she pecked at their cozy little home, snuggled in a fork of a birch tree.  I couldn’t see inside the nest, but once Ms. Robin finished her chores and settled in for a good long sit, I understood that she’d been rotating her eggs, keeping the babies inside from getting stuck to the shells, and also helping to ensure a uniform temperature, which she maintained with her own body heat, emanating from a patch on her belly gone bare for just this purpose.

From that moment on, I couldn’t catch enough of the drama: first the several days’ wait for the hatch, during which Mama Robin laid faithfully on the nest during sunshine and downpours, daylight and dark, leaving 3earthwormcutonly occasionally to find some food.  Papa Robin came by to visit, but mostly he busied himself in the yard, hopping around and looking proud already, his breast thrust out and head tilted upward as he kept neighborhood watch.

After several days of waiting, the big moment happened inside the walls of the nest. It was too high up for me to see the breakthroughs, but life became so hectic for the Parents Robin that I knew they had hatchlings. Now both of them were busily pecking at the yard, hunting, gathering, returning to the nest for a quick drop off before 4tulipscutheading out to work again.  A couple of days later, the little ones began to peep, and then their demands became visible as well as vocal.  Three little carrot-colored throats extended upward over the nest rim, their gaping bills like freshly opened tulips undulating in the breeze.  Their cry was unmistakable:  “Feed me!  Feed me!” And they were insatiable, eyeing the sky for a parent and springing into upward open-mouthed position 5mamapapacutwhen Mama or Papa (or sometimes both together) would swoop down on a nearby branch before delivering breakfast – or lunch, or dinner, or in between meal snacks. Earthworms appeared to be the edible of 6grasshopperchoice, although the occasional hapless grasshopper or other bug found itself staring down a throat of no return.

7teenagerAfter a meal, the tired youngsters would flop their little heads on the side of the nest, sometimes staring straight at me, the down on their heads looking like double Mohawk haircuts glistening in the sun, their endlessly 8jostling and competingopen mouths still making demands. Come to think of it, they must have been teenagers by now!  They grew restless, preening and jostling and competing with each other for food. And they just plain grew. It had been barely more than 9flashreda week when the first one flashed me a glimpse of bulging red breast. Their abode began to look more cramped than cozy.

And then one morning came the inevitable.  I turned on my coffee pot, carried the cats’ bowls to the sink, looked out the window and the birch tree seemed suddenly, heartrendingly barren. Ms. and Mr. Robin had become empty nesters.  I’d anticipated this moment, reminding myself that successful parenthood is all about raising the youngsters to spread their wings and make their own ways in the world. And I know they grow up fast, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for these kids to be gone. And, as in so many families, 10outerit turned out that one of the kids wasn’t either. I didn’t notice him until afternoon, huddled on an outermost branch several feet from the nest, wobbling a bit, tentatively flapping his wings every once in a while and then wobbling some more. Frankly, he looked too fat to fly. But he still had an eye out for handouts.  A parent would wing in every so often and pop a worm into his mouth like a mom shoving a casserole into the oven and then rushing on to other chores.  Could it be that part of the chores was checking on the other children?  I’d read that training flights were part of the program before full independence from the parents, so I spent some time outside, watching Mama and Papa Robin pecking for food and then following their routes through the air.  Sure enough:  one fledgling had moved into a high rise, a towering birch in the side yard.  Another had settled in the suburbs: a stately, plush fir on the edge of the woods out back.

I decided that I could not devote my days to wandering from tree to tree to check on progress, so I settled for watching the one triplet still outside the window.  And sadly, I missed the moment of his final disappearance through my screen. A parent had just flown in for a feeding, which he’d gobbled with his usual gusto.  I looked down for barely a few seconds and when I looked up, he was gone.

Will there be a sequel?  I don’t know yet.  Robins lay more than one clutch each summer and sometimes they reuse their nest.  So I’ll stay tuned.  Meantime, an inordinate amount of birdcalls has alerted me to a sparrow nest right outside my bathroom window.  Oh dear.  Maybe I’d better stock up on bubble bath.

Breaking the Chain

Dogs are America’s favorite animal

Or so the statistics suggest, with 46% of U.S. households including dogs.  That equates to more than 78 million canines cohabitating with humans in one way or another. ZachwtoyinchairUnfortunately, not all of them are pampered pooches wandering PetSmart with their human companions in search of toys and treats and resting their heads on plump pillows in cozy beds at night. Some of them aren’t even seeing the inside of a house, let alone a store to satisfy their doggie desires. Too many of them – and in this case, one is too many – are spending their lives at the end of a rope or chain.

The Humane Society of the United States puts the number of “tied-up” dogs at more than 200,000, although this is a hard number to precisely tetheredcalculate. But I’m guessing you know about it and have seen it: the dog pulling and straining against the restraint around his neck, which is tied to a tree or fence, or maybe a post stuck in the ground just for this purpose.  Sometimes the dog is barking wildly; other times, he or she simply lies there in depressed defeat, knowing there is no escape.  Except:  there can be escape.  And anyone who knows of a dog enduring this kind of existence can help be the escape.

Movements against tethering are taking hold across the country, spurred on by increased awareness of the cruelty to dogs and danger to humansimages by restraining dogs in this way. Dogs are pack animals, descended from wolves.  They crave companionship and interaction.  Dogs are smart, emotionally astute creatures. They yearn for stimulation and affection.  Tie them up and abandon them and they can go berserk from deprivation.  Imagine the human in solitary confinement year after year, seeing no one except the keeper who drops off food and water and, torture on top of torture, the occasional unfettered creature walking by who doesn’t stop to set them free, or even to say hello. Do any of us doubt that this can provoke a descent into madness? Physically horrible things can happen on the end of a tether also.  Dogs can be tied up so long that their collars become embedded in their necks.  They can develop all sorts of diseases, sores, and mange from neglect and the inability to maneuver to scratch or groom themselves.  They can become entangled in their tethers or even strangle themselves.

Let me be clear:  dogs who have endured and survived the worst of circumstances can be rescued, rehabilitated, and restored to the loving, giving creatures they were born to be.  (The Michael Vick dogs are a case study.) Tethered dogs are liberated, taken to shelters and adopted out daily across this country.  But the dog on the end of the chain can also be hazardous to humans, driven by stress, desperation or even training – some dogs are tethered for the express purpose of protecting property; they are expected to be dangerous. The American Humane Association says tethered dogs are almost three times as likely to bite, and cites their sense of vulnerability as one reason why.

Hence the anti-tethering movement, for our mutual benefit.  18 states now have laws on the books addressing tethering.  The laws tend to set conditions for tethering, rather than prohibit it.  For example, there are restrictions on how long a dog may be tethered, or specifications as to how long the tether must be.  One state simply mandates that there be “adequate space” for a tethered “companion animal.”  Excuse me, but an animal that is tethered outside and away from you is not a companion.  Try this on your spouse or kids for even an hour and you’ll see what I mean. (Just making a point here:  do not take that sentence literally, please.)

Many tethering restrictions happen on the local level, with ordinances. You can find out whether your community or county limits or bans tethering here. In my county, the campaign against tethering proclaims Tethered Dog 2“Break the Chain – It’s the Law.”  If you want to become part of the chain of citizens working to untether dogs who don’t yet benefit from government protection, take action. Contact your local representatives.  Change happens when enough of us demand it long enough.

And if by chance you get up close and personal to a tethered dog that you don’t know, don’t try to pet or free it yourself. Call a reliable, humane animal welfare organization for assistance. Chances are you’ll be helping that dog to a far better life, maybe even one indoors with doting humans, which is where America’s favorite animal belongs.