Sunday, July 08, 2007

Dogs do deserve better

[The Mayor says, "just say no to to chains"]

Seeing dogs chained outside, in all types of weather, has always bothered me. Unknown to me, until this morning, is an organization with good intentions—raising people’s awareness about the plight of the many dogs that are left outside, chained, often with little, or no shelter, or even water.

Dogs Deserve Better was founded in 2002, by Tammy Sneath Grimes, who wanted to raise awareness about the issue and find concrete ways to improve the lives of countless dogs that spend their lives tethered to a length of chain.

We’ve all seen these dogs—chained to a tree, a doghouse, a metal post, or an old car. This unfortunately is the fate of millions of canines, nationwide. In rural states like Maine, this is an all-too-common site.

A decade ago, when I was a field service rep for the state's largest electric utility company, I saw countless dogs all over the region, living a life of deprivation, yoked to a chain, or heavy cable. Many of these dogs were far from friendly. Dog experts agree that chaining dogs increases their level of aggression.

According to Rolan Tripp, affiliate professor of animal behavior at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University, "Rather than protecting the owner or property, a chained dog is often fearful for itself, particularly poorly socialized dogs or those with a previous negative experience."

Tripp adds, "When tethered and exposed to a potentially threatening stimulus, one thing the dog definitely knows is, `I can't get away.' In that circumstance, a reasonable response might be, `Therefore I'm going to try and scare you away by growling or, worse yet, biting.' "

That was my experience, numerous times. For whatever reason, this was especially prevalent in areas of Maine where fishermen tended to congregate—places like Harpswell, Phippsburg, particularly the Sebasco (beyond the summer estate) and West Point areas and areas on the Boothbay peninsula. I’m sure if I begin paying particular attention, I’ll notice more of this in my travels around much of my current service area that I roam in my current non-profit role.

I think I was more aware of it then, because I was entering private properties, particularly areas near the power meters. This was an especially popular place to locate a chained dog. I found that many of these sadistic SOB’s that found chaining a dog humorous, also thought it was funny to see the power guy have the wits scared out of him, or even worse, get nipped (which happened to me more than once, two times resulting in visits to the ER). I also developed fairly strong opinions about the character of a so-called fellow human and the way he/she treated dogs. A fairly accurate maxim that I've adopted--never trust a human that could mistreat a dog, as they'll end up turning on you, or visiting harm upon you at some point.

The first time I got bit, I found myself being angry at the dog, but once I had a chance to process this intellectually, I knew that this dog was merely reacting to his circumstances—the dog’s equivalent to spending all, or at least most of his/her life in solitary confinement—certainly deemed cruel and unusual by many prisoner rights advocates. On numerous occasions during my stint with the power company, particularly during the summer months, I found myself filling water bowls and trying to engage dogs that didn't pose a danger to me. During those times, I was always overcome with sadness, as I empathized with the plight of this poor creature, knowing that he/she had no chance of a quality existence.

Later, when we got a dog of our own (my first dog, ever), I marveled at the intelligence and human similarities that dogs possess. In fact, it might be argued that dogs are most like humans, at least among domesticated animals (sorry you cat lovers). I began to think more like a dog than ever, trying to empathize with his needs and what he was trying to communicate to me. I know I never ever thought about tying him up; well, let me back up, just a bit.

When Bernie was a puppy, we bought a nice dog run, with a long lead. We figured this might be an easier way to keep tabs on his whereabouts, when we were outside with him. Never did we intend to leave him outside for extended stays.

We set the run about 100 feet from the house, between to sturdy shade trees. Once clipped in, you’ve never seen such a pathetic reaction. Bernie just lied down and looked at us with the saddest two eyes we’ve ever seen. I tried to coax him to run back and forth, to no avail. It was clear to my wife and I that this would not work for this gregarious Sheltie, who just lived to follow us around wherever we went. In fact that run still sits unused in our shed, used that one time, some 13 years ago. It didn't take us long to figure out that this type of dog hated to be segragated from us and that's how he viewed being tethered to his run.

Whether you chain your dog outside, or not, I hope you look over the website, particularly the "Tips for a Safe and Happy Dog" section. All dogs deserve humane treatment, because after all, they really are man’s (and woman’s) best friend.

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