How tethering limits affect the numbers of loose dogs, dog bites, shelter dog intakes, and dogs killed at shelters
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2008:
How tethering limits affect the numbers of loose dogs, dog bites,
shelter dog intakes, and dogs killed at shelters
by Ambuja Rosen
Ashland, Oregon mayor John Morrison told me several months
ago that one reason he couldn’t vote to limit how long dogs may be
tethered was that he was concerned that more dogs might run loose.
This is a legitimate worry. An estimated 26,000 U.S. motor
vehice occupants per year receive hospital treatment and about 200
people die as a result of traffic accidents caused by animals.
Deer account for most of these accidents, but dogs are responsible
for some. For example, in October 2007 two big dogs darted in
front of a car driven by a 36-year-old man in Hemet, California.
The car hit them, rolled over, and landed on the driver’s side.
The man died at the scene about 30 minutes later.
Dogs running into airport runways are also of concern. The
risk was illustrated on March 27, 2008 in Bangalore, India, when a
Kingfisher Airlines night flight to Hyderabad with 25 passengers and
four crew aboard broke a nose wheel, skidded, and aborted takeoff
after hitting a black dog. The pilot did not see the dog on the
dimly lit runway, he told reporters, until too late to take evasive
action. Four passengers were injured, the disabled aircraft had to
be towed off the runway, and the airport was closed for three hours.
Few dogs run free in the U.S., compared to India, where
most dogs run free, most of the time. Yet such accidents can occur
here, too. One came in 2005, at the Aero Acres Airport, near
Oregon City. The pilot of a single-engine Beech H-35 had just
touched down on the runway when he saw the dog. He pulled up and
powered up momentarily to keep from stalling. But he did not have
the momentum needed to abort the landing, and after he landed again,
he did not have enough room to stop on the remaining runway. As
there was nowhere to turn, he hit a ditch, badly damaging the plane.
Ashland airport management told me that wild animals such as
deer and coyotes are more often a problem than dogs, but loose dogs
also sometimes must be removed.
The Indiana Department of Transportation, the Aviation
Association of Indiana, and ten Indiana airports are so concerned
about the hazards of loose animals in airports that they are
paying $96,286 to study preventative measures.
Favoring restrictions on tethering, but wanting to respond
to concerns about public safety, in fall 2007 I called communities
around the U.S. that have tethering restrictions and asked their
animal control agencies if they have received more reports about dogs
running loose since their tethering limits passed, and what their
other experience with tethering limits has been.
In Carthage, Missouri, population 13,343, I interviewed
animal control officer David Butler and police officer Christine
Vandegevel, who was an animal control officer when the tethering
limit was adopted in 1993. The Carthage ordinance requires that if a
dog is tied, a person must hold the tether.
Vandegevel recalled that the ordinance did not change the
numbers of running-at-large complaints. Neither did she receive a
flurry of tethering complaints.
Dog bite reports fell 25%, Vande-gevel estimated. She said
she believes that this is because dogs who are tied are often
neglected and become more aggressive, and because after the ban
passed, children were less often bitten when they approached tied
Vandegevel guessed that 25 or 30 dogs were relinquished because of
the anti-tethering ordinance, all within the first six months after
the law passed.
Butler said that for six to nine weeks after the ordinance
passed, dog relinquishments and impounds–for all reasons combined,
not just tethering–surged by as much as 20%. Shelter killing
temporarily increased, he said, but by not more than 10%.
“A few people were letting their dogs loose,” Butler remembered.
In Laurinburg, North Carolina, population 15,766, I spoke
with animal control officer Elaine Modlin. A 1997 Laurinburg bylaw
allowed dogs to be tethered, unattended, for up to eight hours a
day. This proved to be too hard to enforce, so in July 2000
Laurinburg reduced the maximum unattended tethering time to one hour.
Complaints about tethering gradually dropped from probably seven or
eight a month to only one or two.
Modlin told me that running-at-large decreased after the
present tethering limit passed, because dogs cannot escape from
behind fences as easily as they can break loose from chains.
Reported dog bites fell from an average of one a month before the law
passed, to an average of just one a year since 2001.
“We’ve had less of a problem with unwanted litters,” Modlin
said, noting that penned females are less accessible to roving males
than chained females. “People call us more often about stray male
dogs hanging around a penned female, trying to dig their way into
the pen, than about stray males hanging around a chained female,”
After the 2000 bylaw passed, about 30% of the people caught
in violation of it either gave their dogs away, let the shelter
impound them, or did not reclaim the dogs despite being advised that
they had been impounded, Modlin said. This was two or three people
a month at first, and later only about one or two per quarter.
More dogs were killed at the Laurinburg shelter after the
bylaw passed than before 2000, Modlin said, but she attributed this
to the vogue for acquisition of pit bull terriers by young men who
then neglect them.
I spoke with records technician Marie Wilson in Big Spring,
Texas, population 25,346. The Big Spring anti-tethering ordinance
took effect on October 1, 2004. The next year, the number of dogs
at large increased from 912 in 2004 to 938–but in 2006, the number
dropped to 876.
Big Spring records only “animal bites,” not specifically dog
bites. Bite complaints increased from 38 in 2004, to 56 in 2005,
and 58 in 2006.
Dog surrenders, for all reasons combined, surged from 154
in 2004 to 313 in 2005, and 235 in 2006. The number of dogs killed
at the Big Spring shelter fluctuated from 774 in 2004, to 999 in
2005, and 852 in 2006.
Dodge City, Kansas, population 26,101, in June 2005
adopted a bylaw providing that dogs may only be tethered for three
hours per day, for no longer than one hour at a time, with at least
a three-hour break off tether between hours of tethering.
Dodge City shelter director Glenna Walker believes complaints
about tethering have decreased from as many as 20 per month to about
10 per month.
She noted that 173 dogs were caught running at large in June 2004,
and 172 in June 2005. The number of cases fell in each month
thereafter, to 112 in June 2006.
Dodge City keeps records of dogs who either bite people or
attack another domestic animal. Dodge City had 62 bite cases in
2004, but only 43 in 2005, and just 37 in 2006. Dodge City banned
pit bull terriers at the same time that the tethering limit was
passed, but Walker believes the drop in bites and attacks is mostly
due to the tethering limit.
The numbers of dogs surrendered to the Dodge City shelter
followed the normal U.S. pattern both before and after the tethering
limit took effect, rising in spring to the summer peak of “puppy and
kitten season,” falling thereafter. Shelter killing briefly
increased, but partly because the pit bull ban brought more
surrenders of unadoptable pit bulls.
Scotland County, North Carolina, population 42,303, in
January 2006 began enforcing a one-hour tethering limit. Complaints
about tethered dogs have gradually decreased from as many as 25 a
month when the ordinance took effect, animal control officer Larry
Herring told me, to about 60% as many during the last three months
“I think we had a lot fewer dogs running loose–at least a
50% to 70% decrease,” Herring said. “The number of dogs hit by
automobiles has gone down,” he added.
Reported dog bites fell from 50 and 48 in the last two fiscal years
preceding the ordinance to 33 and 28 in the next two.
Shelter surrenders of dogs, for all reasons, increased
shortly before the tethering law went into effect. Altogether,
Herring guessed, probably 50 people have given up dogs due to the
tethering law, but now only one or two dogs per month are
surrendered because they cannot be tethered. Herring believes the
ordinance discourages some acquisitions by people who would not keep
Shelter killing has remained about at the previous level.
Battle Creek and Bedford Town-ship, Michigan, population
53,514, “did not receive a flurry of tethering complaints,”
recalled animal control officer Edwina Keyser, after it adopted
essentially the same ordinance as Dodge City, at about the same
time. The numbers of dogs found running at large, numbers of dog
bites, and volume of shelter killing did not increase. To Keyser’s
knowledge, no one has given up a dog as a result of the tethering
Lawton, Oklahoma, population 113,041, banned dog-tethering
circa 1990-1991. Animal Welfare Division superintendent Rose Wilson
could only provide statistics going back to 2004. Since then,
reported bites have fallen each year from 252 to 204 to 194. Wilson
attributed the decrease in part to the tethering limit. She could
not recall anyone relinquishing a dog to the shelter because of the
ordinance, nor any cases in which dogs disappeared between her
response to a complaint and a later check on compliance.
The Lawton shelter killed 5,071 dogs in 1991, and killed
4,643 in 1993.
Topeka, Kansas, population 122,113, shares essentially the
same tethering ordinance as Dodge City, Battle Creek, and Bedford
Township, also taking effect at about the same time. Animal control
supervisor Linda Halford told me that running-at-large and biting
complaints remained about the same before and after the ordinance,
but that bites associated with tethering decreased. Tethering
complaints peaked soon after the ordinance took effect, but are now
Halford estimated that 20 to 25 dogs were relinquished due to
the tethering bylaw, in the first 30 months that it was in effect,
and guessed that probably an additional 20 to 30 people gave their
dogs away because of the bylaw. Shelter killing in Topeka has not
Mark Takhar, director of the SPCA in Burnaby, British
Columbia, population 197,292, told me that the city allows dogs to
be tethered unattended for a maximum of one hour. After the Burnaby
bylaw took effect in March 2006, Takhar said, the SPCA received 44
complaints about tethering in the next 18 months. The numbers of
dogs found at large and numbers of bites remained unchanged. Three
people surrendered their dogs to Takhar, and he heard that two other
people “gave their dogs to a farm.” All of these people, Takhar
believed, had reasons in addition to the tethering law for giving up
their dogs, including inability to afford veterinary care.
No dogs have been killed in Burnaby as a result of the
tethering bylaw, Takhar said.
Wichita, Kansas, population 357,698, has the same
tethering time limit as Topeka, Dodge City, Battle Creek, and
Bedford Township, but adopted it in 2002. A 21-year employee of
Wichita Animal Services who declined to give her full name told me
that running-at-large, bite complaints, shelter surrenders of dogs,
and shelter killing were all not visibly affected by the ordinance.
In all, three communities had fewer reports of dogs running
loose after enforcing tethering restrictions. Only one had more.
Five communities had fewer dog bites. Only one had more.
Shelter surrenders and killing increased in four communities
after tethering restrictions were introduced, but in three of them,
the increases in surrenders and/or killing were only short-term.
Freelance writer Ambuja Rosen, of Ashland, Oregon,
specializes in animal topics. She presently leads the campaign to
ban prolonged tethering in Ashland. For a complete copy of her
survey findings, contact her at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.