Imagine you’re a dog who has lived your entire life at the end of a chain. Constantly exposed to the elements, you pant in the summer and shiver in the winter. Your owner believes he has provided you with everything you need — food, water, and a doghouse -– but your life is a lonely, miserable existence.
Never socialized or trained, you have never had the chance to run, play, or be part of a family. Your purpose is to “protect” your owner’s property, to be a glorified lawn ornament doomed to a sad life of isolation and neglect. The only time you will ever be removed from that chain is when you are dead. And then another unfortunate dog will take your place.
Tethering or chaining is the practice of tying a dog to a stationary object in order to keep the animal confined to a designated space. While some may believe it’s acceptable to tether a dog for short periods of time or while supervised, continuous tethering for months or years is incredibly damaging to a dog’s psyche.
Canines are social creatures by nature, so depriving them of their need to interact with people and other animals causes them to become neurotic, anxious, and aggressive. Besides being prone to a host of medical problems, tethered dogs also pose serious safety risks to any animals or humans who may inadvertently invade their space, including children.
While 19 states have enacted laws to address tethering, with approximately 200 counties and cities either prohibiting or limiting the practice, there are still many areas where this form of passive cruelty is commonplace.
However, one such community and its leading rescue organization have decided that enough is enough. As the largest no-kill animal shelter in North Carolina, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue has seen its fair share of tethering and the deleterious effects it has on dogs. Located in the city of Asheville, the eight-year-old organization rescues more than 4,000 animals per year, including tethered dogs who rank as BWAR’s toughest rehabilitation cases, according to its founder and president, Denise Bitz.
“What usually ends up happening is, when these dogs are confiscated, they go into the county shelter system, then we go in and take them out,” says Bitz. “Then we’re stuck with these dogs who have serious behavior and medical issues. The majority of them are long-term rehabilitation candidates because they’re dog aggressive and afraid of people.”
While unattended tethering is illegal in Asheville, the practice runs rampant in surrounding Buncombe County. “When you get outside of the city and into the county, it’s a huge issue,” says Bitz. “We don’t just have dogs being tethered, we have dogs being tethered with no doghouses, no food, no water — the worst-case scenario. Then we have dogs who are maybe a step up from that — they have a dilapidated doghouse, they get food and water sometimes, and a little social interaction.
“Lastly, we have dogs that people may describe as ‘taken care of.’ We have many hunters out here, and a lot of them tether their dogs, but they also provide them medical care and high quality food and take them off the tethers a couple times a week to hunt … that’s what they’re bred for. So there are different classes of dogs being tethered. What we’re trying to focus on right now is reaching the dogs in the first two groups, the ones who need immediate help.”
While BWAR has always been against tethering, the organization was inspired to take stronger action after Buncombe County Commissioners secretly voted in controversial animal ordinances that included an amendment extending the dog tether minimum from 10 to 15 feet, a meaningless change that essentially endorsed tethering in the county, explains Bitz.
“They went ahead and added the amendment to the existing ordinance without any kind of open discussion with animal groups,” says Bitz. “Unfortunately, it passed, and it doesn’t have the dogs’ best interest in mind. It would have been better to leave it at 10 feet and say, ‘This is a complicated issue, so we need to consult with local animal welfare organizations and figure out a way to help these dogs,’ but they didn’t do that. They just rushed it through without any transparency, collaboration, or research.”
In response, BWAR hosted a public forum on Feb. 5 that allowed members of the community to engage in an informed, transparent debate about the tethering issue in the county. Held in partnership with UnChain Buncombe, an anti-tethering animal welfare organization that has been lobbying the county for several years to pass a tethering ban, the event attracted approximately 120 people.
“It was very cathartic for people who felt their government had really misled them,” says Bitz. “We had people from all walks of life speak, including a veterinarian, and behaviorists and trainers talking about why chaining is detrimental to an animal’s behavioral health. We only had one county commissioner show up. He had voted against the amendment not so much because he’s against chaining, but because he was against the process of how the amendment was passed and had voted it down based on that reason.
“Our sheriff came, and the people in the community were happy that he showed up. His whole perception of chaining is very similar to ours in that there are different tiers of dogs out there on chains, so let’s get to the ones who need our help the most, then let’s talk about the other ones, and then let’s eventually get through a complete ban.”
As a result of this proactive event, BWAR has been able to establish a solid game plan that includes researching anti-tethering legislation throughout the country, enacting a comprehensive community education and assistance strategy, and tracking behavioral and medical data from the tethered dogs it rescues. Once all this important information is compiled, the organization will then have what it needs to present a realistic and appropriate tethering ban proposal to the county commissioners, explains Bitz.
“A tethering ban would be our ultimate goal in the future, but we recognize that realistically that’s not going to happen overnight,” says Bitz. “What we feel like is our best strategic plan right now is community outreach, going out and really assessing the situation, and seeing if there are people out there who need and want help and are willing to accept our help. Can we build them a fence, can we talk to them about bringing the animal inside? Fighting for a ban is important, but we feel like we really need to spend some time educating the community and gathering information first. All the dogs in our community living out their whole lives at the end of a chain deserve our best effort on this.”
Want to help dogs get “off the chain” in your community? Visit Unchain Your Dog or Dogs Deserve Better for great resources about tethering and how to stop this abuse. For more information about Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, check out its Facebook page.
Read more by Lisa Plummer Savas:
About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about controversial animal welfare issues, including the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and Africa. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work.