My Family Chained Our Dog — And I’ve Joined the Movement Against That

Do you abhor this practice? If you see it happening, you can do something about it too.


Gas prices are falling, but let’s not kid ourselves: You know they’re going back up again. When the oil embargo in the 1970s created lines at the pump and mandatory decreases in the speed limit, legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey read a poem about the upside of slowing down to 55 mph to save on fuel costs. With gas prices well more than $3 and even $4 per gallon, we’re back in that mode again. But I’ve done Harvey one better: I’m walking to work.

Living close (0.7 miles) to the university where I do some adjunct teaching has been a real blessing for our fuel budget, but it has also been a curse. My morning stroll takes me past a couple of problem pet situations: specifically, dogs on chains.

One is relegated to a doghouse quite a distance from the house, presumably so the owners aren’t bothered by barking. The second is closer to the road and most always barks excitedly when I walk by. The house is nice, but this beautiful Cocker Spaniel is chained to an old flatbed trailer, which does at least allow him to get out of the heat or rain. He also has adequate food and water. What he doesn’t have is adequate companionship.

I don’t know how many days I have walked past these two dogs and wished things were different. I’ve fussed at the heartlessness of the people living in these nice houses who, for whatever reason (none good enough in my mind), relegate their dogs to chains outside.

But you know what has come to bother me more? Me. Yours truly. The one who has continued to walk by doing nothing. I don’t mean to get all religious on you, but Matthew 7:3 comes to mind: Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

And then the memories begin.

My family chained up our dog, Pal, in the backyard. Yes, we fed Pal and he had a nice doghouse and on occasion we played with him, but for most of the years he lived with us … No, that’s not correct –- Pal didn’t live with us. He lived chained up out back, a lonely little dog desperate to belong.

Is it any wonder he ran so hard and so fast when he did manage to get off the chain? (Read that story here: “Has Your Dog Ever Miraculously Survived a Tragedy?“) He must have thought us chasing him around the neighborhood was great fun, certainly more fun than he was having chained to his little corner of our world. He wasn’t a pet or a member of the family, no matter how hard I try to conjure up that image. Pal was a nothing, an afterthought, a speck in our existence.

All these years later, when I look at the few pictures I have of Pal, I see the potential of what he could have been and the sadness of what his life really was like as “our” dog. It’s all well and good to acknowledge that our family eventually did what was best for him by finding Pal a new home, one where he truly was treated as family and then went on to reward his new family by literally saving the family business. (“How My Little Terrier Saved a Petting Zoo”)

But Pal’s happy ending doesn’t erase the chain in those photos. It doesn’t remove the ache in my heart seeing him sit there gazing into the distance, wanting to be free, but tethered to a stake next to his doghouse.

You don’t have to be religious to know it’s wrong for dogs to be tied up out back all the time, separated from the family. It doesn’t take a heart of faith to know how heartless it is to punish a dog with a life defined by a length of chain because the animal made the mistake of growing up. Since when do you need to be spiritual to do what is right? People of faith, regardless of what that faith might be, don’t have the corner on goodness.

Unchain Your Dog, a group that aims to improve the lives of tethered and chained dogs everywhere, explains it very well:

“Dogs are pack animals. In the wild, canines live, eat, and sleep with their family. In the absence of other dogs, humans become their ‘pack.’ A chained dog feels rejected and doesn’t understand why. Imagine being chained to a tree year after year. You watch the door hoping someone will come play. No one ever does. You long to run, but you can only pace. You shiver in winter and pant in summer. Eventually, you stop barking. You have given up hope.

We have many forms of entertainment: movies, music, friends. Your dog only has YOU. If you can’t give a dog a good life, should you have one?

It is up to caring people like you to improve the lives of chained dogs. Some think, ‘It’s none of my business.’ But it is the business of compassionate people to speak up when living creatures are treated like objects. You will feel good about yourself for helping a chained dog!”

Are there dogs on chains in your town? On your street? Do you mentally chew out those “heartless people who would do that to a good dog” and then keep on walking? Keep on driving until the dog becomes a speck in your rearview mirror, while you get on with your life and he gets on with his?

Only you’re not on a chain, are you? You’re out and about, interacting with people, while chained up Fido is interacting with his dozen or so feet of space.

Recording artist Josh Wilson wrote “I Refuse” about the Nashville flooding in 2010. He sums up the message of the song as a call to action: “I can’t do everything, but I refuse to do nothing.”

Okay, so you want to do something, but how? Knock on the door and get told to mind your own business or punched in the face for sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong? Some of you might say it’s better for the dog to be fed and chained or fenced behind a house than running wild or put on death row in a shelter.

Really? Dogs Deserve Better has an answer for that:

“Would you for one second choose to live the life of these dogs? No matter what reason is given, the bottom line is that it is NOT okay to chain a dog for life. Dogs should not have to live chained or penned as prisoners, yearning for a place in a family, craving acknowledgement, respect, and love. They DESERVE BETTER, and we as caretakers have the obligation to provide it for them.”

If you don’t want to approach the caretakers of chained or penned dogs, you can order doorhangers or submit an anonymous report to the site and the people will be sent information in the mail.

Two homes on my way to work will be getting either a door hanger or some mail from Dogs Deserve Better. “I can’t do everything, but I refuse to do nothing.” It’s the least I can do in memory of Pal the little Rat Terrier, who spent far too many years of his precious life chained behind my house.

What about you? Will you, too, refuse to do nothing? Have you already done something, such as what the Coalition to Unchain Dogs has done in North Carolina? Please share. And please do visit the sites mentioned in the column and learn how you can help. Dogs on chains might not be able count on their owners to do anything for them, but can they count on you?

Til next time,

-john d.-

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