Lawmakers warm to freeing dogs from chain gangs

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002–
HARTFORD, Connecticut– Connecticut legislature judiciary
co-chair Michael Lawler (D-East Haven) on February 27 told news media
that he expects to see a “fair amount of support” for a newly
introduced state bill to limit the amount of time that dogs can be
kept outdoors on chains.
Some U.S. and Canadian municipalities have ordinances against
prolonged chaining, but no state is known to have explicit
legislation against it, despite a growing body of evidence that
chaining tends to make dogs more territorial and more dangerous,
especially toward small children.

Continuous chaining, Lawlor explained, is “a more routine
kind of neglect than the really frightening, serious kinds of
abuse,” but it does demonstrate an over-controlling personality.
“People who abuse animals are not only abusing animals,”
Lawlor reminded, “but also are showing signals that they may pose a
danger to people,” either directly or through the misconduct of
their dogs.
“To me it’s the Woggle Memorial Act,” Animal Advocacy
Connecticut founder and president Julie Lewin told ANIMAL PEOPLE. In
1986 Lewin became aware of a pit bull terrier/Doberman mix who had
lived almost his entire life chained to an axle behind an unlicensed
auto repair shop in the Hartford inner city. Calling him Woggle,
Lewin worked for the remainder of his life to befriend him,
and–although no one else could handle or even approach him–she was
allowed to take him off the chain for brief walks during his final
year. She dreamed aloud of some day becoming able to ban prolonged
chaining, but as Connecticut representative for the Fund for Animals
until January 2001, her work focused then on opposition to hunting
and trapping.
After leaving the Fund to start Animal Advocacy Connecticut
and the National Institute for Animal Advocacy, Lewin “began
lobbying the chaining issue last session,” she said, “asking
various legislators what they thought. To my joy,” she said,
“many legislators who routinely vote against animals became
passionate at the image of chained dogs. Unfortunately, that does
not mean they all will support the bill. Writing it to effectively
address the enforcement issues is nearly impossible, and the
existing county dog restraint ordinances are not a help. However, I
am really pushing for it,” Lewin said, with hope that introduction
will be the beginning of building momentum toward eventual passage.

B.C. leads the way

In Victoria, British Columbia, the BC/SPCA meanwhile won
headlines for bringing a potentially precedental case for
psychological abuse of a dog against the owner of a continuously
chained female Rottweiler named Scarlet. Police and BC/SPCA
constables seized Scarlet on February 22 after she was left outside
through three days of freezing rain. Behavior experts expressed
differing views as to whether she could be psychologically
rehabilitated sufficiently to become a safe pet.
News media did not disclose the name of her owner, but
Animal Advocates Society of B.C. founder Judy Stone said that the man
has a local reputation for violence and is believed to have a
criminal history.
Before the Scarlet case, the BC/SPCA had apparently never
tried to stop prolonged chaining, even after the Animal Advocates
Society of B.C. obtained specific ordinances against it in many
southern B.C. communities. BC/SPCA failure to enforce the ordinances
was and remains a source of conflict between the organizations.
Prolonged chaining usually is not prosecuted under municipal
ordinances, in either the U.S. or Canada, unless compounded by
continuous barking that annoys neighbors or by some further form of
cruelty, because chaining is still widely believed to be an
acceptable alternative to keeping a dog within a fenced yard. Some
animal care-and-control directors have expressed concern to ANIMAL
PEOPLE that prosecuting prolonged chaining might just result in more
dogs being dumped or allowed to run at large.
However, public opinion and court opinion seems to be
turning against prolonged chaining even in the South, where dog care
norms are generally believed to be the lowest in the U.S. An example
of the changing times came on March 12 in Chesterfield County,
Virginia, where Gregory Burno, 45, was sentenced to serve three
months in jail and was fined $500 for leaving an Akita named Jack
chained until a too-tight choke chain became embedded in his neck to
the point that he could not swallow food or stretch to lap from a
bucket of water. Judge T.J. Hauler also ordered Burno to perform 100
hours of community service for the Chesterfield County Animal Shelter.
An Akita rescue group was reportedly able to rehabilitate
Jack and find a good new home for him.

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