“What Kind of Jerks…” or Why the Federation Opposes Anti-Tethering Laws

A couple of days ago the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an opinion piece and online video by Bart Hinkle entitled “What Kind of Jerks Think It’s Okay to Leave a Dog Staked out in the Cold?” Mr. Hinkle’s answer was “Virginia legislators,” but his drive-by target was the VFDCB.

He’s talking about tethering dogs. Last week the House Agriculture subcommittee tabled HB 1802, a bill that would make it illegal to tether a dog unattended in Virginia. Mr. Hinkle’s problem with the Federation is that we spoke out against the bill.

There are various ways to keep a dog in a safe place. Sometimes one is better, sometimes another. What may be safe and effective when done properly may be dangerous or cruel when done badly, We already have laws about keeping animals safe, and because laws are a blunt instrument, trying to use them to fix details will not work.

Tethering is a method of containment, fastening one end of a rope, chain, cable or the like to an immovable object and the other to a dog’s collar or harness. Unfortunately, many people find it easier to say simply, “Tethering a dog is cruel” and to believe what they’ve heard than to look at the whole issue logically. Thanks to disinformation from the radical animal rights movement, tethering has become a rallying cry for goodhearted people who have been convinced that the act of tethering itself is cruel. But in the end, what matters is the care the animal receives, not the method of confinement.

Let’s get the title of Mr, Hinkle’s editorial out of the way first. Who mentioned cold? In the first place, cold is relative. Forty degrees is too cold for a chihuahua, but for a Siberian husky or a Great Pyrenees, the weather is just getting comfortable. (That’s one reason it doesn’t work to put too much detail into animal law.) But between the word “jerks” and the phrase about “staking dogs out in the cold,” it is pretty obvious from the get go that this piece is a textbook example of yellow journalism, not so much concerned with facts but with sensationalism.

In the online video, Mr. Hinkle points out that the bill doesn’t prohibit tethering. Well, no it doesn’t. It requires that you be in eyesight of the dog at all times, This means tethering is no longer a way to confine a dog; it just makes it legal to tie your dog out while you do the gardening. Not too helpful for someone without a fence,

He reports that people speaking in favor of the bill told stories of dogs left to freeze or starve. The editorial and video were peppered with depressing photos furnished by PETA of skinny, miserable looking dogs on chains. Tethering aside, the owners of these dogs were already guilty of animal cruelty under current animal law and should have been prosecuted. According to the Virginia code, a dog must have “necessary food, drink, shelter, [and] emergency veterinary treatment.” Obviously these dogs did not. Again, what matters in the end is whether the dog is receiving proper care.

The Richmond SPCA reported that the combination of rain and heat and the dogs’ pulling on the chain can lead to infected sores. Again, this is a violation of current law that requires veterinary treatment. Most dogs do not pull on their tethers after the intial training period. They’re pretty smart that way.

Finally there is the aggression card: Tying dogs up makes them mean. There has been only one peer-reviewed study looking at behaviors of dogs on tethers as opposed to dogs in pens. It was done at Cornell Veterinary School and it concluded, “There was no indication that tethering was more detrimental to the dogs’ welfare than housing in a pen.” We’ll talk more about this in another post.

Mr. Hinkle dismisses people’s reasons for tethering their dogs. He makes air quotes around the term escape artist, ridiculing it as a reason for tethering. But the Houdinis of the canine world present serious danger to themselves and continuing headaches for owners trying to abide by the leash laws. They may jump, dig, or climb, but they get out. Mr. Hinkle’s solution for these dogs is to “take them for a walk once in a while.” I’m not sure whether he meant the dog would stop trying to escape the fence (he won’t) or whether the dog should be kept inside except for the time required to take him for a walk.

Another reason he blew off was that many hobbies involving dogs require tethering. And by the way, it’s not just urban or dryland mushing, though that is a growing sport in the state.

Funny thing, though, Mr. Hinkle does not mention the main reason people use tethers: They are unable to build a safe fence due to zoning or HOA restrictions or just don’t have the money. In fact, it is largely low income people who would lose their dogs if this bill passed. Discriminatory maybe?

And here’s the bottom line. What would happen to the Virginia dogs that are currently tethered if tethering were made illegal?
1) Owner might build a fence. Not likely because of expense or housing restrictions. If a fence were an option, it probably would have already been built.
2) Owner might turn the dog loose to avoid being fined. Some dogs would hang around home. Some would be hit by cars and killed. Some would become neighborhood nuisances and reported to animal control.
3) Owner might turn dog in to shelter. This is probably the most likely outcome. Are our shelters prepared to deal with the “thousands and thousands” of dogs PETA claims are currently tethered 24/7?

Finally, Mr. Hinkle might want to check out his associations. From PETA’s website: …We believe that it would have been in the animals’ best interests if the institution of “pet keeping”—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as “pets”—never existed.  ….This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering, which results from manipulating their breeding, selling or giving them away casually, and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior. They are restricted to human homes, where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to.

Are these the people we want influencing our pet animal laws? People who believe there should not even be any pets?

Our next post will talk about the reasons people tether dogs, alternatives, and what to do when you do see a mistreated dog, whether on a tether, in a pen, or in a backyard.

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