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Activists take up cause of tethered dogs

May 01, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

TRI-STATE -- To fight or to flight, that is the question.

Take away one option and a tethered dog will have only one choice and only one reaction, said Bobbie McIntyre of Greencastle, Pa.

"Fight," she said.

Across the Tri-State area, residents have taken the cause of tethered dogs to the local level in the interest of public safety and animal welfare.

Bills regulating dog tethering repeatedly have died in the Maryland and Pennsylvania general assemblies and the West Virginia Legislature, said Theresa Rutter, founder of Justice for Dogs, a Frederick, Md.-based lobby.

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Yet grass-roots efforts at the county and municipal levels are making headway, she said.

Most recently, residents in Greencastle and Berkeley County, W.Va., have put the question to their representatives and asked for action.

Berkeley County will vote May 13 on an anti-tethering ordinance. Greencastle has yet to consider the change, while Justice for Dogs has approached the Franklin County Commissioners for action.

For the activists, it often was the tale of one dog that inspired action.

"His name was Russ," Rutter said. "He froze to death outside on the end of a chain."

The situation of Russ, a pit bull from Thurmont, Md., solidified for Rutter the need for action.

Since 2002, she has been fighting in Maryland to introduce local and state legislation limiting or prohibiting tethering.

Her work has gotten notice from people across the area, including McIntyre, who sought help from Justice for Dogs to approach the Greencastle Borough Council in April with an anti-tethering ordinance.

"I think it is just simply cruel," McIntyre said of the practice. "People say, 'Oh, he likes it out there,' but I have yet to see a happy, healthy dog on the end of a chain."

On her knee rested the head of Ashley, an 11-year-old rescued shepherd mix that will always bear the scars from her tethered life.

Ashley spent much of her life chained between two houses in Philadelphia, McIntyre said.

However, what freed Ashley from her chain was not a law.

"They poured hot oil out a window and down on her," McIntyre said, tracing a finger over the scar. "She had nowhere to go. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) stepped in."

Today, Ashley's life is quite a different story, living in a pack of about 10 dogs under the care of McIntyre.

Still, many dogs remain chained to boxes, trees and fences in the Greencastle area, where there are no laws against the practice, she said.

While displaying a photo of a dog tied to a garage, tears began welling in her eyes.

"I went there once to take pictures and he was over the edge, hanging by his neck, choking to death," McIntyre said of the dog in the picture. "I had to help him."

Flipping through an array of photos of tethered dogs, she said each one is why she approached the council asking for help.

More than just animal welfare is at stake with the proposed ordinances, said Ginnie Maurer, founder of Unchain Berkeley County in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"The most dangerous dog is one that is tethered," she said. "Dogs will flee or fight, and when they can't flee, they fight."

Maurer said anti-tethering laws protect those in the public who encounter chained dogs.

The ordinance under consideration in Berkeley County, while not a complete ban on the practice, originally read that no dog could be tethered for more than eight hours continuously, she said.

"Unfortunately, we felt that it would be unenforceable," Maurer said.

McIntyre said she suggested the Greencastle Borough Council ban tethering overnight rather than for a set number of hours.

Regardless of how a community addresses the issue, Rutter advised that any law limiting tethering is a success for the activist.

It is easier to get an existing law changed than a new law added to the code, she said.

Maurer said there has been some opposition to the ordinance in Berkeley County.

At a recent hearing, she said hunters spoke in favor of the practice, saying that it is necessary for hunting dogs.

"The argument was if the dogs were allowed indoors, it would 'ruin them,'" she said. "I don't know if it will or not, but I look at K-9 police and search-and-rescue dogs. They sleep on the beds of their handlers and still do their jobs just fine."

Having adopted Rutter's approach, Maurer said as long as the Berkeley County Commission passes the ordinance, it will help.

For McIntyre, she still is in the beginning stages of the fight in Greencastle.

Wanting to see sample anti-tethering ordinances, the Greencastle Borough Council asked McIntyre to come back in May with similar laws passed in Pennsylvania.

Rutter has been fighting these battles for eight years now and it has taught her that patience pays off.

"You absolutely have to accept that any measure you take and any ordinance you get passed is a step in the right direction," she said. "As a society, we are more humane than we used to be, but there are still those who don't care. That is a hard mindset to change, so we find ourselves fighting ignorance as much as cruelty."

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