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. Unfortunately, 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 calculate. 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 humans 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 “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.