“In most parts of the U.S., it is still perfectly legal to force a dog to live on a chain 24 hours a day”
Founder and CEO, Dogs Deserve Better
“Bringing dogs into the family since 2002”
We are again deep into winter, the time when Dogs Deserve Better’s phones ring off the hook with people desperate to find help for a freezing dog on a chain or in a pen next door.
In most parts of the U.S., it is still perfectly legal to force a dog to live on a chain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with only a doghouse for protection from the elements, if even that much. The “doghouse” can be just half of a steel drum, with no floor and no provision that the dog must have a dry, sheltered place in which to lie down.
There are laws in two to three hundred cities, counties and a handful of states that limit the amount time a dog can remain tethered. Altogether, fifteen states have some kind of statewide tethering law, but most say only that you can’t “cruelly” chain a dog, without defining what that means in terms specific enough to be enforced. The mere act of chaining is not considered to be cruel. Chaining a dog in extreme weather for a prolonged time might be considered cruel by a particular judge or jury, but the variables in judgment discourage law enforcement from even trying to bring cases to court.
The best state law on the books concerning chaining comes from California, where one cannot chain a dog for more than three hours at a time, and even that is supposed to be only to “complete a temporary task.”
Unfortunately, it is still legal to affix a dog in California to a trolley line—a glorified tether—or throw the dog in a pen for life. This is legal almost everywhere.
Dogs Deserve Better
I formed Dogs Deserve Better in 2002 because I, like most Americans, was horrified that was still legal to chain a dog under almost any circumstance, including weather in which the dog might die.
I had no idea that I could not get help from authorities for the dogs I saw rotting away at the ends of chains when I moved back to Pennsylvania after a stint in the U.S. Air Force and after finishing college in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. corridor. When I tried, and was told repeatedly by an unsympathetic humane officer that there was nothing I could do about the suffering I was forced to witness, I felt anger, helplessness, hopelessness, and then finally determination to do something about it.
I myself come from a family of chainers, on a 108-acre farm in the tiny village of St. Augustine, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. We had two dogs, Gally, a black lab, and Maggie, a beagle. Neither dog was allowed to live inside the home with us, but Gally had it better than Maggie. He was free to roam the farm and find all kinds of trouble, including his penchant for dragging home dog food bags from parts unknown and rolling in dead animals to achieve a repugnant pungence that only he seemed to appreciate.
Maggie, on the other hand, was ostensibly a hunting hound. To my knowledge, however, she never left her chain until the day my brother lost her in the woods. Hers was a sad and lonely existence, and I hope and pray that my work for otherd of her kind can begin to make up for what my family did to her by leaving her chained for life.
“One of the blackest spots on civilization”
Chaining was much more prominent then, in the 1960s and 1970s, than it is today, but even then I knew it was wrong. And so did many other people, even though little was done about it. In truth, the cruelty of chaining had already been recognized for decades.
Editorialized the National Humane Review, published by the American Humane Association, in October 1937:
“It is about time,” writes a correspondent, “that something was done about the torment of the dog chained in a yard with no more than three or four feet of freedom. Steps should be taken to remove what is without question one of the blackest spots on civilization.” Most people will agree with our correspondent. The matter is again referred to in the hope that it may receive attention of local humane societies. Warnings are usually effective, but an occasional prosecution, with publicity, keeps the subject before the public.
So, suppose you find yourself in the same quandary I did when I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1995 and bought a house only a quarter of a mile from a constantly chained dog whose owners called him Worthless?
You live next door to the dog. You see the dog chained in the cold—day in and day out.
Rain, snow, sleet, hail; summer heat, winter chill. Through all of it, the dog is still out here, alone, suffering, wondering what he/she did wrong to be ostracized from the pack, the family, and begging to get back in.
What to do, what to DO?!
Here are some steps I recommend for you to follow. Maybe, just maybe, you can work some magic for the voiceless, suffering being whose only hope may very well be you.
Research your local laws
First, research your local laws governing animal care, and become familiar with them.
Some communities that do have laws limiting the time a dog may live chained. You need to know what is legal and what is not, because otherwise animal control or code enforcement may dismiss your complaints as uninformed.
These links will help.
This site includes many of the time limit or chaining bans now on the books, but likely not all: http://www.unchainyourdog.org/Laws.htm
This site includes municipal codes of every kind for many cities in the U.S. It may have yours. https://www.municode.com/
If you find nothing on either site, contact your local city or county administration office and find out what your animal cruelty laws are, which would be in addition to your state cruelty laws.
Also inquire about zoning and public nuisance laws. Many jurisdictions do not prohibit chaining, but do prohibit keeping animals in a manner that causes problems for neighbors, such as chronic barking or allowing feces to accumulate.
Most dogs left out in the backyard on a chain or in a pen bark a lot. And then they bark some more, because they are cold, bored, lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, hopeless, helpless, injured, dying, praying someone will notice them. A dog in distress is usually barking.
Most cities and counties have noise ordinances. Find out what the ordinance in effect in your community says, and use it to your advantage.
Similarly, a neglected dog on a chain is often surrounded by equally neglected heaps of feces. This is also illegal almost everywhere.
Citations for noise violations may force the owner to either take the dog inside, or relinquish the dog to animal control. Citations for sanitation violations may at least cause the owner to relinquish the dog.
If the dog is relinquished, please ensure that the dog is promptly claimed from the animal control shelter, whether by yourself or by a rescue organization. Shelters are usually authorized to kill owner-surrendered dogs immediately, instead of having to observe the mandatory holding period that apply to impounded dogs and dogs found as strays, running at large.
In general, a state can have a law, for example a law limiting chaining to three hours a day, as in California. A county or city can then implement a stricter law, but not a looser law.
In other words, Los Angeles enforce a stronger city bylaw than the state law, banning the chaining of dogs altogether, but could not allow dogs to be chained for 10 hours a day.
If there is a law
If you have a state or local law banning or limiting chaining, you can in theory just call your local animal control agency, bringing an officer to educate the dog’s owner, issue a warning that continued chaining will be an infraction of the law, and the dog will thereafter be taken inside or be surrendered to animal control. So long as someone rescues the dog from animal control after impoundment, if that is what happens, everyone will live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, this rarely occurs.
If you have an applicable state or local law, the law is blatantly ignored or broken, and your local animal control agency will not do anything about it, then you have to force the issue.
If there is not a law
If you don’t have a state or local law banning or limiting chaining, the situation will be dire, mostly for the dog, since you will not have much chance of getting quick results. But the situation may be dire for you too, if you hope to get a good night’s sleep this winter instead of lying awake worrying about the dog.
At a minimum, all U.S. states currently have a law that provides, in summary, that a dog must have food, water, shelter, and veterinary care as necessary.
If a chronically chained dog dog does not have these things, or if the dog is severely underweight or has some other malady or injury, animal control or humane officers may take some action on behalf of the dog, even in absence of any restriction on chaining itself.
I estimate—from my 13+ years experience in working to free chained dogs all over the U.S.—that about 20% of animal control officers actually believe that chaining is not the way to keep a dog and does not meet a dog’s needs. Even if there is not an anti-chaining ordinance on the books, these animal control officers will go out of their way to creatively educate chained dogs’ owners, or will find other ways to help a chained dog.
Unfortunately, the other 80% of animal control officers merely enforce the letter of the law, and do not encourage people with chained dogs to do better. Sometimes animal control officers who are insensitive to chaining view the person who complains about chronic chaining to be the problem. Often these animal control officers are employed by agencies which promote chaining as an acceptable alternative to letting dogs roam.
Speaking to caretakers
If you don’t have a law against chronic chaining, I believe speaking to the caretakers about a dog should be tried before calling animal control. Otherwise, if there is no law to protect the dog, and you have called animal control, the caretakers may be irate, spiteful, and resistant to any offers of help.
Speaking directly to the caretakers requires courage, but if you can establish friendly relations, you have a better chance of bettering the dog’s living conditions, if only by getting the caretakers to give you the dog.
Sometimes a caretaker simply says, “Take the dog.”
Get a handwritten transfer of ownership to you, for your protection, leave with the dog, and say “Thank you.”
Sometimes a caretaker listens to what you have to say, but shows absolutely no interest in bettering the life of the dog, even if you offer to help and bear the expense.
Sometimes a caretaker gets crazy, screams and yells no matter how nice you are, and you have to hightail it out of there before things get too ugly.
This happens a lot.
But, no matter what, after speaking directly to the caretaker you know where things stand, and you know if you can make any headway on your own.
In all cases, if talking to the caretakers doesn’t work, report the address to your local animal control or humane officer. Even if the agency takes no actual law enforcement action, as occurs in most cases, usually someone goes out to look at the dog. Then both the local authorities and the caretakers know that citizens don’t want to see dogs living outside any more.
How Dogs Deserve Better can help
If animal control and/or the local humane officer do nothing, and you believe the dog’s situation is illegal, take photos and fill out this form: http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/chainedaddresses.html
It is best if you give us a way to contact you so we can discuss the situation and help you to help the dog. However, if the photos are egregious and show definite illegalities, and you still want to be anonymous, we can find other local people to confirm your observations and to work with animal control to try to assist the dog.
If you believe the dog’s situation is not illegal but want our opinion, take photos and fill out this form: http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/chainedaddresses.html
For this we will need your contact information to get back to you.
If you believe the dog’s situation is not illegal, but know as we do that it is immoral and cruel, then fill out this form, and you can remain anonymous. We will mail educational information to the dog’s caretakers in hopes that they will do better: http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/chainedaddresses.html
If the situation is really illegal, and the dog or dogs are in bad shape, but animal control and/or the police are not helping, please send us photos right away, so that we can put public pressure on the officials.
Or, create your own Facebook page or post about the dogs with the photos, and ask us to crosspost it for you, c/o email@example.com
If dogs are suffering and nothing is being done, good photos of the situation can compel people to make calls on behalf of the dogs. When law enforcement receives enough phone calls about a situation, often something is done.
Finally, if your city or county does not have a law limiting or prohibiting chaining, take on the task of getting one passed. Visit our Get Laws page for information about how to do this, including drafts of model legislation: http://dogsdeservebetter.org/laws.html