Well, it’s about time. Over the last two years, fourteen municipalities and two regional districts in my area have added restrictions on tethering dogs outdoors to their animal control bylaws. These include the Central Okanagan Regional District, (Kelowna, Lake Country, Peachland and West Kelowna) and the Capital Regional District (Highlands, Langford, North Saanich, Sidney and Victoria) as well as Surrey, Terrace, Northern Rockies, Harrison Hot Springs, and most recently, Squamish.
Too Little, Too Late?
Sadly, most of Metro Vancouver is glaringly absent from this list and the change has come a little too late for many animals. I have a neighbour I would have liked to report for this particular kind of abuse. They once had a lovely old husky-cross chained up in the backyard of their home. Sadly the poor old thing died before I had any leverage to help her.
The Dog Across the Street
I moved into my home in July 2010. About six weeks after we moved in, Vancouver experienced much higher than average temperatures for the season. On August 15th, the mercury moved into the 30s. We humans were quite uncomfortable, to say the least, as very few Vancouverites have air conditioning and it was quite muggy at the time. It didn’t take long for me to take notice of the poor dog across the laneway from us. She was obviously in distress on account of the heat and being endowed with one hell of a fur coat. She barked out two barks approximately every ten to fifteen seconds for about 15 hours per day. I noticed it as soon as we moved in (how could I not?) but I attributed it to the heat. It continued like that unabated for several more years through every conceivable weather condition.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was the dog’s permanent living arrangement. A few weeks later, when my sister came to stay with me, she was appalled at what she saw. I had, I am sad to say, become completely desensitized to the effect of the barking. I had ceased to even hear it anymore. It was at my dear sister’s urging that we sat together at the window for a time to try and get an appreciation for what this animal had to endure. Suddenly I felt like a terrible person for not doing something about it sooner.
This dog was tethered with a heavy chain on a concrete slab 24/7, 365 days a year. Her small doghouse was right next to the drain which meant the area was almost always wet from the rainwater. (Vancouver’s nickname is “Raincouver” for a reason.) It dawned on me that I NEVER saw them walk the dog or even interact with it in any way. She was obviously quite old and so arthritic she was basically dragging her hind legs. It took her about two minutes to move from lying down into a semi-standing position. We saw how the dog, once standing, didn’t have anywhere to go and it was obviously still very uncomfortable but unable (or unwilling) to lie back down. She had only a few meters in either direction that she could go. The area where she was tethered was in a single car carport under a large balcony. The entire area was paved and even the “garden” was covered in gravel. This dog had four choices: cold concrete, a too-small doghouse, gravel or the narrow space between the houses where she could relieve herself.
Blowing the Whistle
I then did what I should have done sooner. I called the authorities – but not before doing a little research. I visited my local S.P.C.A. (The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) website. In 2010 the website looked somewhat different. There was little information about being chained up, but it did say:
An animal is in distress according to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act) if it is:
- Deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, space, care or veterinary treatment;
- Injured, sick or in pain or suffering; or
- Abused or neglected.
Further to the “shelter” guidelines:
The dog must have shelter that: 1) ensures protection from heat, cold and dampness appropriate to the weight and protective coat of the animal; 2) ensures sufficient shade to protect the animal from direct rays of the sun; 3) ensures sufficient space to allow the animal to turn freely and to easily stand, sit and lie down; 4) is adequately ventilated and regularly cleaned and sanitized; and 5) is elevated and insulated.
It was so infuriating and heart-breaking to see that this dog, in fact, was not being “abused” according to the guidelines put forth on the website. I called anyway.
The first thing they did was to ask my name and all of my particulars. I have known the woman across the street for my entire life. I played with her children 30 years ago. I was really reluctant to put myself at risk of detection. Unfortunately, without doing so I could not follow up or find out how things were proceeding with the case. I was still able to give my account, however, and I did.
We camped in front of the window, blinds drawn, and within an hour or so we saw the white van pull up. We had a clear view of everything as our house looks down on theirs. We saw the people inside moving towards the front door. We saw the wife suddenly turn and race to the backyard while the husband continued speaking to the S.P.C.A animal control officer. The woman suddenly appeared in the backyard and ran over to the dog and unchained her. The dog looked surprised and a little frightened at first. The woman detached and hid the chain and then opened the gate to let the S.P.C.A man into the backyard. I couldn’t hear anything they said but I could make out through gestures that she told him the dog had free reign and got lots of love. This was the ONLY time I saw the dog get a pat, ever. The man checked the dog for fleas and signs of malnutrition/abuse and I suppose found none. He was out of there in less than ten minutes. I waited and waited for them to return to remove the dog, but nothing happened. I felt I had done all I could. Perhaps if I’d had the presence of mind to film that whole episode, it would have helped. I still kick myself for not doing more.
In 2013 we got a puppy. This little scallywag has completely stolen my heart. I know that if she had been with us then, I would have done more to help. I hate to say it, but it hits home a lot harder now.
It may be too late for one old girl, but we can make a difference for future pups to save them from a similar fate.
So, please remember my neighbour’s dog and her final years spent suffering at the end of a heavy chain. She never had any human interaction and was likely in pain most of her days. Please don’t tether your dog in the yard. Let her roam free. Better yet, bring her inside to be with her ‘pack.’ There’s no safer place for her than under your watchful eye. Not to mention, dogs are the best companions a hooman could ever wish for! Ours has brought us more joy in a year than I would ever have imagined possible!
❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
Here’s a little more information on tethering dogs, courtesy of the S.P.C.A.’s (updated) website:
1. What is a tethered or chained dog?
A dog that is tethered with chain, rope or cable to a stationary object, usually in a back yard.
2. What is wrong with tethering a dog?
Dogs are social beings who crave and thrive on companionship and interaction with other people and animals. Left for hours, days, months and even years on a chain, dogs suffer immense psychological damage. They can become aggressive, anxious and neurotic through lack of socialization.
Tethering a dog can also bring physical harm to the animal if the chain or collar is too tight and becomes embedded in the neck or if the tether gets tangled around other objects and the dog chokes or is strangled to death. Tethered dogs are also susceptible to attacks by other dogs and animals because they can’t escape and are often exposed to the elements because their shelter is inadequate, or they become entangled and can’t reach it.
3. Why do people tether dogs?
Sometimes people tether their dogs as a means to protect their property, reasoning that the dog will bark to alert them of visitors, or will deter visitors altogether by its presence. The BC SPCA strongly discourages the use of dogs merely as “alarm systems” — dogs are sentient beings with physical, social and emotional needs. However, experience shows that inside dogs — who have bonded with their human “pack” — are actually more likely to protect their home and family by barking than dogs who are banished to back yards and therefore have little or no connection to the family.
What Can YOU Do?
Councils across British Columbia (and beyond, I am certain) are continuing to adopt compassionate bylaws that promote human responsibility and animal wellbeing. High paws to them all! However, if your municipality isn’t one, you can still help by taking the following steps:
- Look up your municipality to see what they have in place or are lacking.
- Look up the email address of your mayor and council.
- Write a brief, polite email to your mayor and council, asking them to adopt the BC SPCA’s Model Animal Control Bylaws, emphasizing any deficiencies noted from our review. (Local folks, please cc B.C.’s bylaws team so they can gauge actions around the province.)