Anti-Tethering Laws: Cruel or Humane?
This article appears in Issue #12 of Fully Bully Magazine.
One thing experienced and reputable dog people agree upon is this: a dog is not safe left at large unattended, even in a fenced yard. No matter how secure the fence, when an owner is not home it is possible that a dog can dig out or climb over. A sudden storm can blow down a section or even one board, facilitating an escape. In some parts of the country earthquakes can damage a fence, as can sudden strong winds. “Freak” accidents are not really so “freak”; the author had a visitor’s brakes go out and they arrived with a bang—right through the front gate! Luckily I was home.
Another very serious threat to dogs—particularly pit bulls—is being killed by frightened police officers who enter the yard in pursuit of “bad guys”. Even friendly dogs are killed with alarming regularity by trespassing police.
When an unattended dog is not secured within a yard, it is much more likely to be lost or stolen if meter readers, delivery people or children open a gate. Animal control officers can tell you—opened gates are a leading cause of lost dogs.
When an owner is not home and the dog is either too young (not housebroken), too old (incontinent), or simply too active to be left alone in the house, the animal is best secured within a yard by being tethered or by being kenneled.
In order to be secure, a kennel has to be under wired or have some kind of solid bottom as well as a solid, tip-in or hotwired top. The space needs to be large enough to allow the animal to get away from its feces and to provide shade in hot weather.
Such a kennel represents a substantial outlay of money. If a dog is going to be spending several hours a day in the kennel, the size should be no smaller than six feet by twelve feet.
Another satisfactory way of confining a dog while owners are not at home is to tether the dog. Tethering is less expensive then kenneling, but requires a bit of though in order to set up a safe, humane situation. Contrary to popular misconception, tethering can be the safest method of controlling a hard to contain animal.
All dog breeds contain those canine “Houdinis” that can escape from anything. They can chew through 9 gauge chain link, they can push up heavy kennel lids—they can break out windows and even open doors. They destroy wire and plastic shipping crates in seconds. These dogs can only be contained securely (and humanely) with a well thought out tether system.
It is a sad fact that well intentioned but inexperienced and/or misled people are behind most “humane” laws these days. The current trend toward “anti-tethering” laws is a classic example.
The most obvious example of this is the reasoning that tethering is “cruel” due to “lack of space”. “Tied up on a short chain” is a common cry of those who would have you believe tethering is de facto cruel. In reality, tethering (even on a short tether) allows a dog more room than the standard kennel and far more room than the space inside even a large shipping crate.
California has introduced an anti-tethering bill which will effectively deny dog owners the right to securely confine their dogs in their own yards. This ordinance exposes not only the dog, but the dog’s owner to risks. Prohibiting dog owners from securely tethering their dog in their own yard will result in increased escapes by dogs, as well as an increase in the cruel practice of making shipping crates a dog’s “primary enclosure” for hours each day while owners are at work.
If an owner cannot afford expensive kennel setups, and the dog is not trustworthy in the house (or they have multiple dogs which should never be left together unattended) and they cannot tether, owners have little choice but to make a shipping crate the dog’s primary enclosure.
California’s Proposed Ordinance
Bill SB 1578 Dogs: Tethering Prohibition was introduced by Senator Lowenthal and Assembly Member Koretz in February of 2006.
Wording from the bill states: This bill, with specified exceptions, would prohibit a person from tethering, fastening, chaining, tying, or restraining a dog to a dog house, tree, fence, or other stationary object. By making a violation of its provisions a crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
The body of the law reads, in part:
SECTION 1. Chapter 13.2 (commencing with Section 25975) is added to Division 20 of the Health and Safety Code, to read:
CHAPTER 13.2. DOG TETHERING
(a) For purposes of this chapter, the following terms shall have the following definitions "Reasonable period" means a period of time not to exceed three hours in a 24-hour period, or a time that is otherwise approved by animal control.
(b) No person shall tether, fasten, chain, tie, or restrain a dog, or cause a dog to be tethered, fastened, chained, tied, or restrained, to a dog house, tree, fence, or any other stationary object.
(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b), a person may do any of the following:
(1) Attach a dog to a running line, pulley, or trolley system approved by animal control. A dog shall not be tethered to the running line, pulley, or trolley system by means of a choke collar or pinch collar.
(d) A person who violates this chapter is guilty of an infraction or a misdemeanor, at the discretion of the prosecutor.
(1) An infraction under this chapter is punishable upon conviction by a fine of up to two hundred fifty dollars ($250) as to each dog with respect to which a violation occurs.
(2) A misdemeanor under this chapter is punishable upon conviction by a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) as to each dog with respect to which a violation occurs, and imprisonment in a county jail for not more than six months.
So, according to this bill, if you tethered your dog outside to let it enjoy the warm spring sunshine (with shade available, of course) for four hours (say, while you are flea bombing the house) you face conviction for animal cruelty as a misdemeanor, and up to a $1000 fine and six months in jail.
The California bill does not prohibit runners, which interesting, as runners are problematic at best. Runners can provide a satisfactory tethering situation, but because of their complexity, provide many more opportunities for breakage, snags and tangles.
The California bill is poorly written and far too inclusive. And it is not unique. Fifty four United States communities prohibit or restrict tethering dogs. However, there are a few jurisdictions which have addressed the cruelties of inappropriate tethering without negatively impacting responsible and humane owners. These laws are outstanding examples of cutting to the heart of the problem which is neglectful ownership practices, not tethering.
One example is Raytown, Missouri, which passed a 1997 law which offers wide protection to all kinds of animals and fowl:
Sec. 4-17. Cruelty to animals and fowl.
No persons shall tether, confine or restrain any animal in such a way as to permit said animal to become frequently entangled in such tether, or to render said animal incapable of consuming food or water provided for it or prevent said animal from moving to adequate shelter.
Those simple words provide all the power a humane officer needs to keep someone from tethering an animal inappropriately. The point is, after all, that no one wants to see a neglected dog tangled on a runner, with no access to shelter or water. Interestingly, Tucson, Arizona Code Sec. 4-3(2) describes appropriate tethering:
a tieout, consisting of a chain, leash, wire cable or similar restraint attached to a swivel or pulley. A tieout shall be so located as to keep the animal exclusively on the secured premises. Tieouts shall be so located that they cannot become entangled with other objects. Collars used to attach an animal to a tieout shall not be of a choke type. No tieout shall employ a restraint which is less than ten (10) feet in length.
Yet the Tucson law goes on to prohibit all tethering! The above description describes tethering that can only be used for
30 days after a person is “busted” for tethering—even appropriately. After 30 days, the dog must be kenneled, crated or allowed to run loose.
In Dekalb County, Georgia, whom ever wrote up their anti-tethering ordinance obviously has very little experience with securing dogs safely. The ordinance requires that a tether be a trolley system required to be:
The running cable line or trolley system must be at least ten (10) feet in length and mounted at least four (4) feet and no more than seven (7) feet above ground level;
(9) Be attached to a properly fitted harness or collar not used for the display of a current rabies tag and other identification; and with enough room between the collar and the dog's throat through which two (2) fingers may fit. Choke collars and pinch collars are prohibited for the purpose of tethering an animal to a running cable line or trolley system;
Those familiar with trolley systems know that a four foot high line invites all kinds of tangles and problems, the most common being the dog getting the line under its elbows and causing rub wounds. As well, tying out a dog on a harness will result in a loose dog very quickly. Dogs can simply reach down and chew the harness on the chest area to get out; others can easily back out. A harness is the least secure way to keep a dog on a tether.
As well, to specify that “two fingers” can be slipped under the collar is senseless. Two fingers on edge, or two fingers lying flat? A tiny Asian woman’s fingers or a large, overweight man’s? For a government agency to insist they know how tight a specific dog’s collar must be to confine it securely is dangerously negligent. Who is liable if an aggressive dog slips a too loose collar and escapes to do harm? The owner who was not allowed to use a proper fitting collar—or the government which insisted on an archaic method of measurement?
Tethering laws such as the proposed California law showcase the government’s attempt to micromanage. It is, as well, to the observant follower of pet ownership trends, still another move away from the keeping of performance or working bred animals.
Currently we see the trend toward turning small dogs into purse accessories and large breeds into inane, bandana-wearing, dog-park visiting urban caricatures of “real” dogs. This modern “urban chic” trend desires Old Yeller to spend his days in a shipping crate (accessorized to fit the living room furnishings) in a high-rise or lying about on a couch in a Brownstone, waiting for his “guardians” to arrive home from work and the club. Country ramblings have been replaced by hurried morning and evening walks (in a coat, of course) sniffing exhaust and oil and the pee markings of other leashed canines.
Crating versus tethering
Humane societies generally state they are against “long term” crating, however they consistently give no practical advice on just where to keep a young, energetic and more-likely-than-not destructive dog. Those who live in apartments, condos and townhouses are encouraged to adopt a dog (especially by members of the “no-kill” movement who are desperate to move their wares) and are encouraged to “crate train” but given no further advice about what to do with a bored, under exercised, hyperactive companion animal. The results are predictable and backed by hard evidence; the average age of a dog being returned or dumped at a shelter is 7 to 11 months of age—and the majority of today’s “urban” dogs have shipping crates as “primary enclosures”.
What’s interesting about this almost unanimous support by “humane” personnel for shipping crates as “primary enclosures” is that using the average shipping crate (300, 400 or 500 size) as the average pit bull’s primary enclosure does not even meet the (very) minimal standards set forth for housing of dogs used in medical research facilities.
According to USDA Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Chapter 1, Subchapter A—Animal Welfare– Part 3, Standards, the amount of space needed for a “primary enclosure” for a canine is calculated thusly: measurement of animal nose to tail, plus 6 inches, X measurement of animal nose to tail, plus 6 inches = the required floor space in square inches. To determine the required floor space in square feet, divide the square inches by 144.
Using this equation, an average sized pit bull (considering they range from 35 pounds to 65 pounds according to the UKC standard) weighing 60 pounds will require 12 square feet of space in its primary living area. The typical “large” or “400” sized crate measures 32” long by 20” wide of usable, inside space. This equates to 4.4 square feet of space—one third the amount mandated for those poor souls in research laboratories. Even the larger “500” or “extra-large” crates fail to meet USDA requirements.
So it is difficult to understand why appropriate tethering deserves so much attention from “humane” organizations, but the practice of “crating” is ignored. In fact, if the California law passes, an owner can be jailed for giving their dog hundreds of square feet of space in an appropriate tethering situation, but can legally “crate” their dog for 23 hours a day.
The trend toward crating is disturbing on a variety of levels. Those who “crate” as primary housing—and their numbers are legion—have somehow fallen off the “humane” radar. When “collectors” are “busted” by law enforcement, audiences are horrified to see dogs forced to live in small cages. And yet how many breeders and rescue organizations keep animals under just these conditions?
The numbers of “reputable” breeders and rescues which use shipping crates as “primary housing” for their animals numbers in the thousands. “Crating” has gained acceptance due to its very ease—the dog is out of sight and out of mind. A dog living 23 hours a day in a crate attracts no unwanted attention by neighbors; produces no barking complaints.
Poorly written anti-tethering laws, like the proposed California law, take aim at the wrong problem. The act of tethering a dog is not cruel. What is cruel is getting a dog and treating it like a toy or a piece of sports equipment; an accessory that when not in use can be shut away and ignored be it on a tether or in a kennel or in a shipping crate. Neglect is the real problem here, and as such, should be addressed.