On Monday, May 4, 2009, we received a complaint about two dogs chained in a yard with no shelter. Lynn Shelton and I visited the address, where we found three dogs. One, a young German shepherd, had a chain that was wound around a tree, and he could not reach his doghouse. Another dog, an adult female pit bull, was also tethered with a chain that was too short by legal standards. She did not have a doghouse. The third dog, a young retriever mix, was tied to the side of the house with a leash, and had nothing but a dog carrier for shelter.
All three dogs strained to go beyond the confines of their chains. The retriever mix, only about four months old, wagged his tail the entire time, even as he was trying desperately to gain freedom. The shepherd was a dog that Lynn and I later remarked would have made someone a fine companion, if only he lived inside as a member of the family. Being chained non-stop has a tendency to drain the personality out of dogs, even though this shepherd tried valiantly to be personable.
We spoke about the adequate care required, and while we were still there, a neighbor came with a doghouse for the pit bull. The owners were given 24 hours to provide longer chains and an appropriate doghouse for the retriever mix.
We told the owners that chaining a dog is not illegal, but it is inhumane. We told them that being constantly chained could have contributed to the pit bull being aggressive. The owner said that, no, that did not cause her to be mean; her parents were both mean.
About 5:30 the next morning, I received a call from the police department. Our help was needed at the shelter to euthanize a young German shepherd that had just been viciously attacked by a pit bull. I had a sinking feeling I knew where the dogs came from, even before I confirmed the address with the police officer.
Chaining is inhumane. Chaining leads to boredom and neglect. I do not know how to say it better. The vast majority of complaints that we receive about animals being neglected involve dogs that are chained or tethered. Some of these animals we can help, but if the legal minimum standards of physical care are being provided, there is nothing we can do to help the dog. In those cases, the dog is forced to live his life at the end of a chain.
The continuous chaining or tethering of dogs is inhumane. Dogs are naturally social animals who crave interaction with humans or other animals. Even a friendly dog becomes unhappy, anxious, and often aggressive when continuously chained. Neurotic behaviors can result, including pacing, constant barking, and self-destructive behaviors. Put simply, a continuously chained dog is not a happy dog.
We often see neck injuries on chained dogs, a result of the dog straining to reach the absolute limits of the chain. Improperly fitted collars or chains can actually become embedded in the dog’s neck. We see at least fifty cases each year of severely embedded collars.
Some dogs we receive at the shelter come to us dragging chains used for cattle. And, we have seen Yorkies, poodles, and Chihuahuas on chains. No breed is safe from the practice.
In a high percentage of cases that we see, the chained dogs do not have adequate shelter, chain length, or food or water. In Virginia, the chain length must be at least three times the length of the dog’s body, as measured from the tip of the nose to base of the tail. It is necessary to remember, though, that what is legal is not always humane.
We do not allow dogs adopted from us to be chained. We believe it is a shame if shelters do allow it. To summarize, keeping a dog on a chain is legal, inhumane, and cruel. We are in the process of planning a campaign to help the thousands of dogs in this area that are forced to live their lives at the end of chains.