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Breaking the Chain
Anti-tethering legislation—what it is and how to create it


Who hasn’t spotted a dog chained to his dog house and wondered with a pang if he’s ever moved more than 10 or 15 feet from that spot? Well, if he’s like thousands of dogs in this country who live chained, day in and day out, regardless of weather or season, he probably hasn’t. What about the dog in your neighbor’s back yard, tethered to a tree or a clothesline or a shed, barking until someone remembers to dump kibble in her dish? This is her life. What can you do?

In many communities, so long as food and water are available, continuous tethering hasn’t been prohibited—until now. “Continuous tethering” refers to the practice of attaching an animal with a restraint, usually a rope or chain, to a stationary object, like a porch, dog house, fence post or clothesline. As more and more people begin to understand how this practice damages the very active and social creature we call “friend,” communities across the nation are passing anti-tethering ordinances.
Two reasons for doing so stand out: the mental and physical welfare of dogs and the safety of human beings. “Dogs are naturally social animals,” explains Adam Goldfarb, a spokesperson and animal issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, D.C., “and the isolation they endure when continuously tethered creates dogs who are lonely, bored and anxious, and who eventually become territorial and aggressive. Studies have shown that chained dogs are at a greater risk of biting people than dogs who don’t live chained, so ordinances that restrict chaining can benefit both people and animals.”

According to an oft-cited statistic, a chained dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite.* Frequently, the victims are children. In 2007, the organization Mothers Against Dog Chaining logged 81 serious attacks on children by chained dogs (for specific cases, see their website). 

Advocates Step Up
In the last few years, groups of concerned individuals eager to address the urgency of the chained-dog problem have formed across the country. One of them, Unchain Your Dog, whose motto is Doesn’t man’s best friend deserve more than life on a chain?, offers important facts and great links to other sites. Another, Dogs Deserve Better, is the brainchild of founder Tammy Grimes, who describes her own journey in recognizing that continuous tethering of a dog is cruel:

“As a child on the farm, we kept a chained Beagle named Maggie and a black Lab, who, although rarely chained, was not allowed in the home. The latent desire to stand up for the family dogs of my youth, coupled with later in life living near a dog the owners had named Worthless, was impetus for me to start Dogs Deserve Better. Worthless, another black Lab, had spent his entire life at the end of the chain—cold, snow, heat and rain—until I started Dogs Deserve Better, approached the owners as a representative of the organization, and was able to bring him into rescue. That was indeed a glorious day!”

Thanks to better education, more and more people understand that their dogs are pack animals, social creatures who want and need to spend as much time as possible with their human companions. So why do so many dogs still end up at the end of a chain? The reasons run the gamut, and often cast light not just on individuals but also on broader community and social values related to the treatment of animals.



Alyce Miller's most recent book of fiction is Water, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize. She leads a double life as a professor of English at Indiana University–Bloomington and a pro bono attorney.


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