Yesterday afternoon, as I sat on my couch watching a movie about Che Guevara, my phone rang. It was Sam, a friend of mine who I met when she adopted one of my rescue dogs.
Since then we’d grown close, attending animal events and walking the dogs together. She was calling from a friend’s work. Next door was a dog that had no water. He was on a short four foot chain, attached to a kennel that looked like it’d been through a tornado.
The dog looked fed, she said. But his living conditions were less then stellar.
I took a ride over, and we sat for awhile and watched the dog bark and pace and bark and pace, lay down, and then pace some more.
Now, there are laws against tethering dogs in Rhode Island. It is illegal to
“Keep any dog tethered for more than ten (10) hours during a twenty-four (24) hour period or keep any dog confined in a pen, cage or other outdoor housing structure for more than fourteen (14) hours during any twenty-four (24) hour period.”
There are other laws involving tethering. Including access to shade, food and water. Unfortunately, most dogs on chains are either not noticed, or those who notice them are not aware of the laws.
Many times, owners can get immediately defensive when it comes to having an officer of the law at their door. So, in cases of no immedate emergency, I always believe in speaking to an owner before calling in law enforcement and possibly ruining a working relationship before it’s even started.
The dog we watched was thin, but not terribly so. He was black and white and from what I saw, some sort of pit/hound mix.
When we talked to Sam’s friend, M, she said the dog was outside all day and all night. The family had another dog, she’d said, but that dog lived in the house.
Finally, we made the decision to confront the owner about not only the dogs living conditions, but the reasons he was kept outside at all.
When the owner answered he was more then a little surprised to see us, more so to learn we were standing on his doorstep over his dog. But he was polite and listened intently.
I started out by asking a few questions. How old the dog was, what his name was, and why he was living outside.
The owner stated that he’d had the dog for four years, maybe less, maybe more, and his name was Cody. He truly had no answer as to why the dog lived outside.
I asked about Cody’s health history. Was he neutered, up to date on shots, had he had a heartworm test?
The owner looked confused. He didn’t know what neutering was. He thought Cody had had shots, and what was heartworm?
Sam produced a few pamphlets on the subject of chaining I’d given her earlier, while I explained that chained dogs were three times more likely to bite and have health issues due to pests, lack of exercise, and living in filth.
We asked again why Cody was outside. I made suggestions. Maybe Cody was a problem as a puppy? Did he have too many accidents in the house? Maybe he chewed on things too often and they didn’t know how to handle him?
It was then we learned the sad fact. Cody had never had a chance to be a bad boy in the house. He’d never been in it. They’d simply gotten Cody, and put him in the yard, where he’d lived for the last four years. His owner had no answer as to why. It was just what happened.
Cody’s owner complained about the barking, and I asked if he considered that Cody barked because he was lonely. He looked amazed and explained that he had truly never looked at it that way.
Finally, after making our case, we gave Cody’s owner our phone numbers. We offered to help him socialize Cody, train him, get him medical attention, take him for walks, or even help put a fence up in the two unfenced sections of the yard.
Cody’s owner looked a little dazed with our offers. He took our numbers down, and we thanked him for listening as he disappeared into his house with the anti-chaining pamphlets.
We returned to M’s place of work and sat back down explaining to her what had transpired. As we explained that we’d be back, maybe with a box of treats and a new collar, the door to Cody’s house opened and his owner stepped out. We watched amazed as he walked over to Cody, gripped his collar, and did something so amazing that even Cody himself didn’t seem to believe it for a minute. He unclipped his chain.
Within minutes, both Cody and his owner had disappeared back into the house.
Now, this isn’t the end of Cody’s story. Not by a long shot. Bringing a dog into the house after that long is sure to have some obstacles, but Sam and I will be there offering whatever help we can every step of the way. M is keeping an eye on things, and we hope that Cody’s time in the house will become permeant.
Now, if you take one thing for this story, it should be that you can make a difference. Cody’s owner was not evil or cruel. Just misinformed and maybe little ignorant. In some cases, all you need to do is give someone the tools, in this case, knowledge, and sit back and watch as they work.
Not every owner will be as receptive as Cody’s was. I’ve been yelled at, threatened, and thrown off property in the past, so it’s always important to be careful.
If you or a friend knows of a dog that is living his or her life outside and would like to do something about it there are many fact sheets, pamphlets, and educational materials that can be printed and given to dog-chaining owners, or, if you’re frightened, left in their mailbox.
If you do see a dog that looks too skinny, ill, or is without respite from the cold or heat- give your local Animal Control Officer a call as soon as possible. You can make a complaint by phone without having to confront anyone yourself.
In any case, when approaching a stranger, be careful, be friendly, and be well. You won’t change everyone’s mind, but you may just give them something to think about.
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