(This Op-Ed appeared in an edited version in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, and can be read and commented on at this link. I encourage you to post a comment, as it will encourage the paper to print more animal opinion pieces.)
In the past, Pennsylvania winters have brought the gift of anxiety to both dog rescuers and caring citizens forced to witness the suffering of neighborhood dogs from the warmth of their kitchen windows.
While some humans hung lights from their porches and stockings from their chimneys, their dogs hung from tethers in the backyard—cold, hungry, thirsty, miserable, and, most of all, isolated.
Anyone who stepped forward to ease the suffering of these forgotten dogs was told to “mind their business”, or, worse, arrested for the “crime” of providing food, water, or medical care to one of God’s creatures.
As founder of the first national nonprofit focusing solely on backyard dogs, I spent 13+ years leading efforts to free dogs from chains in Pennsylvania. In just one example, I recall watching two Cambria County dogs fight to stay alive in the subzero temperatures of a miserable January day. The skinny white husky huddled in her flimsy, strawless house, while a short-haired boxer in the same yard shivered and shook as she devoured every morsel of the food I offered, skin taut over protruding ribs.
It was obvious to all Pennsylvania citizens who possessed a beating heart that these dogs—and the thousands like them left chained to suffer the frigid elements—deserved better than the life to which they’d been sentenced.
Yet Pennsylvania law lagged behind what most understood to be moral truth.
This holiday season, for the first time ever, Pennsylvania chained dogs will find the gift of a law under their trees, and animal advocates and caring citizens alike will be the bearers of a merrier, i.e. less anxiety-ridden, Christmas.
In June of this year, Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive animal care package, which benefits chained dogs by prohibiting tethering for more than nine hours a day, and—even better—30 minutes or less in temperatures below 32 degrees.
While some may argue that a nine-hour law will be difficult to enforce, I maintain that a difficult law is better than no law at all when it comes to protecting Man’s Best Friend.
During my tenure on the front lines of efforts for chained dogs, I was left with no legal recourse to help chained dogs. I’m thrilled to say that is no longer the case.
To ensure that the new laws are enforced and upheld by humane agents and police officers, I offer three tips for concerned citizens:
- Keep a copy of the law on-hand. Most humane officers are well-versed in the new laws, and will make a reasonable effort to ensure they are enforced. However, many police officers will be less familiar with new animal laws, and you will want to have a copy of the law in hand while discussing the case with officers. You can find and print a copy of the law at this link: https://www.animallaw.info/statute/pa-cruelty-%C2%A7-5536-tethering-unattended-dog
- Document the case. No one is more concerned about getting a neighborhood dog help than you are, because you’re witnessing the neglect daily. In order to relieve both your suffering and the dog’s, do the legwork required to prove the law isn’t being followed. Keep a journal of the times of day you see the dog left chained in the yard. Take photos, and consider setting up a live feed that records more than nine hours if necessary. An investment of a few days on your end can save a dog from a lifetime of misery on a chain.
- Accept the responsibility to testify when necessary. A humane officer may drop a case if he/she doesn’t have eyewitness testimony. While I know it can be scary, the dogs need us to be their voices. Remember that they cannot speak for themselves.
When I chained myself to a doghouse on the Pennsylvania State Capitol steps for 54 days advocating for passage of our anti-tethering law in 2010, my steadfast dream was that this day would come for chained dogs. It didn’t happen then, but now, in 2017, animal advocates and concerned citizens who came together to make this dream a reality can lay this gift at the feet of the chained dogs, finally presenting them with the justice they deserve.
I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.
Five Ways for a Citizen to Tell if a Dog is Living Chained 24/7:
- There’s no grass. When dogs live chained for life, they end up with patches of dirt or mud instead of a grassy area, especially in the circle at the outer edge of the chain’s reach. The dogs run the perimeter out of frustration or boredom, and the chain’s dragging pulls out the grass.
- The doghouse is broken down, chewed up, decrepit. If a dog is chained 24/7, there’s a good chance he/she has been there for years, and this may not be the first dog to be sentenced to this fate. In these cases, the doghouse is old, falling apart, and has holes or other structural damage that make it an unsuitable shelter for the dog.
- The dog looks unkempt, smells badly. Dogs who spend their lives outside rarely if ever receive baths, and so their fur is dirty, matted, scruffy.
- The dog has fleas, ticks, other parasitic issues. A dog who spends 24/7 outside with no preventative will suffer flea, tick, worm, and other parasitic infestations. These become obvious to the casual observer, and without medical intervention, can prove deadly.
- The dog becomes angry, territorial, depressed, or shows signs of mental deterioration. According to the CDC, chained dogs are up to 3x more likely to bite, due to lack of socialization with humans and the fight or flight syndrome. A chained dog is unable to flee, therefore he/she must be on the alert and prone to increased aggression.
About Tamira Thayne:
Tamira Thayne pioneered the anti-tethering movement in America, forming and leading the nonprofit Dogs Deserve Better for 13 years. During her time on the front lines of animal activism and rescue she took on plenty of bad guys (often failing miserably); her swan song culminated in the purchase and transformation of Michael Vick’s dogfighting compound to a chained-dog rescue and rehabilitation center.
Tamira’s spent 878 hours chained to a doghouse on behalf of the voiceless in front of state capitol buildings nationwide; her organization rescued and rehabilitated thousands of chained dogs, finding them new, inside homes and families.
In 2016 she founded Who Chains You, publishing books by and for animal activists and rescuers. Tamira is the author of The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, Foster Doggie Insanity, and Capitol in Chains, and the co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.