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Breaking the Chain

Animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law, and some owners view their dogs as “possessions,” not unlike furniture or vehicles, to do with as they please. Others cite “tradition” or “custom,” or that people have always kept dogs that way (dogs used in herding and hunting were typically not regarded as family pets). Some simply don’t want an animal in the house and resort to a chain to prevent the dog from running loose (jumping the fence or digging his way under). Some believe that a chained dog in the yard is “guarding” the house, despite the fact that a dog inside the house is more likely to be effective in deterring an intruder. Others have wearied of the responsibilities of owning a dog or are not willing to deal with a behavior problem, and so have relegated the dog to the outdoors—tied, they say, because fences are expensive.
When communities consider anti-tethering legislation, it is important that those involved in creating it understand why people tether dogs and how to talk with them about this choice. Education is key, and information about the importance of properly socializing dogs is crucial.

Getting Down to Details

What exactly is an anti-tethering ordinance? As you might imagine, they vary. Some, like one in Ft. Worth, Texas, ban tethering altogether, except for very temporary moments when the owner is present (a dog sitting at an outdoor café with his person, for example). Others simply limit the number of hours in a 24-hour period that a dog can be tethered (in Bloomington, Ind., a dog cannot be tethered for longer than 10 continuous hours and no more than 12 in a 24-hour period). Others specify exact times of day; for example, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., focuses on the dangers of extreme temperatures and the vulnerability of particularly young animals, and prohibits “the tethering of cats, dogs who are under the age of six months, and any dog during periods of extreme weather or for longer than 15 minutes between the hours of 10 AM and 5 PM.”

Many ordinances specify types of collars and tethers (e.g., a buckle-type collar or a body harness made of nylon or leather, and not less than one inch in width), and the tether must be, for example, at least five times the length of the dog’s body, or at least 10 feet long. Some specify that the restraint must not weigh more than a certain percentage of the dog’s weight, and others require the tether to terminate at both ends with a swivel.** Leashes on dogs while they are being walked are, of course, exempt. 
Naturally, an ordinance is only as good as its enforcement. The more specifically and carefully an ordinance is written, the more effective the enforcement can be. According to Sarah Hayes, CEO of the Monroe County, Ind., Humane Association, “After passing the anti-tethering laws in Bloomington, not only were we able to take immediate action to stop the suffering caused by long-term tethering, but the ordinance also served as an opportunity to talk to owners about the root cause of resorting to chaining dogs. Officers now have the weight of the ordinance behind them and the opportunity to work with individuals to help rectify training and other issues, building a better understanding and bond between owner and dog.”

The successful creation and passage of anti-tethering laws involves establishing the reasons they’re needed, articulating a clear purpose and providing specific guidelines. A good reason to develop an anti-tethering ordinance is that a community wants not only to promote compassionate and humane treatment of companion animals, but also to acknowledge the ways in which the welfare of animals is inextricably connected to the welfare of people. Chained dogs are not only dangerous, they are vulnerable to predators, strangulation and theft as well. As Anne Sterling, Indiana State Director of the HSUS, reminds us, “Working to pass anti-tethering ordinances in your community is an incredibly effective way to help dogs.”

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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