By Sharon L. Peters on USAToday.com
Old habits die hard.
Anyone requiring new evidence of that old saw need only read last week's 170 online comments relating to my story about a small but growing number of laws that ban or restrict chaining or tethering dogs.
The arguments propelling this age-old practice into social (and legal) unacceptability are that chained-out dogs, unable to protect themselves, often become territorial and aggressive; they're frequently neglected, hungry, thirsty and parasite-ridden; they strangle in their ties; and they're generally not included in the family, which, for social animals, is an awful thing.
Magnum spent years living on a chain in Pennsylvania, until his owner surrendered him to Tamira Thayne, founder of Dogs Deserve Better, a group devoted to getting dogs off chains.
Some online posters cheered the anti-tethering trend. But some were outraged at anyone (or any law) presuming to tell them how to treat their dogs. Many insisted their animals are happier outside, some insisted they must chain them or let them run free, since some subdivisions prohibit fences (and, evidently, no dog-walking leashes are available in those towns).
I know it's not easy for a person to quit doing what he (and probably his father and his father before him) has been doing for many years. But the fact is, knowledge advances, and things once thought to be just fine (like tossing the picked-clean baked-chicken carcass into the yard for the dog to enjoy) must be re-thought when new information emerges (that splintering bones can choke a dog or perforate his intestine).
It's often argued that some people do worse things to their dogs than chain them. Being a volunteer at a shelter, I know that's true. But the dog that has caused me perhaps the most anguish in recent years was a well-bred young Lab owned by a well-educated couple in a well-tended subdivision in dog-loving Colorado Springs. She wasn't gnawed on by a predator, her neck wasn't infected from an embedded collar, and she wasn't rail thin, realities that often accompany dogs left chained out 24/7.
And yet, she suffered.
She was brought home as a puppy and promptly relegated to the small fenced-in side yard outside the family room. Never trained, never exercised and rarely brought inside, she learned about family life by viewing it through the glass slider. Soon she became noisy and insistent about wanting to join the couple (although the truth is, they weren't home much) and got yelled at.
As she grew, she apparently proved she could jump the 5-foot fence. All we know is that one day she was tethered in the little yard. The tether was just long enough for her to clear the fence without hanging herself (as long as it wasn't crimped or wrapped around something). This is a fact the neighbors discovered with horror one evening when they returned from work and found the young dog mashed up against the outside of the fence without an inch of tether to spare. No one knows how long she'd been there.
Animal control visited the couple twice that I know about. Once was to inform them that the little new-growth tree in the yard didn't provide sufficient shelter from the blazing sun and pounding rainstorms. The couple set a crate outside for the dog. There also was a complaint lodged of no water sometimes (a situation routinely addressed by people who walked past and dumped bottles full over the fence for her, so animal control never really saw her without water).
The young dog developed a deep terror of thunderstorms, and she'd pace and whine when they rolled over the mountains and settled over her house. Neighbors complained. Thereafter, when the couple was home during a storm, they'd put her in the garage so the howling wasn't so disruptive.
Many nights, my friend who lived near the dog would call me in tears because the animal was whining through a storm, or no one had seen the owners since before dawn or because the chain was wrapped around something.
The dog was fed regularly. She wasn't sick; nothing was bloody or broken. Animal control had no justification to take her. But that dog was miserable.
One day she escaped from the garage, where she had been confined for some reason.
She was never seen again.
All of us who had worried over this dog hoped she had somehow made her way to a family who would train and appreciate her and make her part of their lives. But everyone knew it was more likely she had been killed by a car during her frantic dash from misery. And as much as it pains me to write these words, I confess that we concluded that whichever of those two things happened, she was better off than she would have been if she had had to endure 12 or 13 more years of the life she lived for her first 12 months.
It's probably worth noting that this couple had another dog before this one. He lived in the fenced-in area most of the time, but apparently didn't have spectacular jumping skills because he wasn't chained. But he didn't like life alone in the little yard any more than the Lab did. He also fled. And was never seen again.
So in less than a year, two dogs ran off.
And after each desperate flight, the couple was heard complaining about "stupid dogs."
Learning isn't always fast — a truth that seems to apply to humans more than dogs sometimes.
And habits die hard.
The couple has moved away now. But I'm guessing there's another tortured dog in their lives.