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Sassy’s Story and the Question of Tethering

Sassy’s Story – click to read

 Question: What do these dog owners have in common? 
  • Owners who hike and camp with their dogs
  • Owners in residential developments with architectural and fencing restrictions
  • Disabled and blind owners
  • Owners of working, herding, hunting, field trial and sled dogs
  • Owners of escape-artist dogs

Answer: These and other good dog owners may choose to utilize tethering to provide their dogs with exercise and keep them safe.

Providing dogs with secure housing, exercise, playtime, and socialization is a concern for all owners. In recent years, tethering as a method of confinement for dogs has become a controversial topic, and numerous legislative proposals to ban or restrict tethering have been introduced in response to requests by anti-tethering activists and animal rights groups.

Supporters of such proposals often recycle appalling photos of dogs with bloody collars embedded in their necks and starving dogs on chains with no water or shelter. Pictures of such cruelty would horrify any dog lover.

But are tethering bans really the solution their supporters suggest? Laws in all 50 states already make it a crime to let a dog suffer injury from an imbedded collar or to fail to provide a dog with necessary food, water and proper shelter. A new ban on tethering is unlikely to impact the actions of lawbreakers who treat dogs cruelly in violation of existing laws. However, these proposals will adversely affect law-abiding citizens who use a variety of safe and accepted methods to humanely tether their dogs. A better and more effective way to protect dogs from mistreatment is to ensure enforcement of cruelty and negligence laws, regardless of the method of confinement an owner chooses.

Proposed anti-tethering laws are problematic for responsible owners who utilize tethering to improve the lives of their dogs. Consider the following:

Blind and disabled dog owners who don’t have fenced yards or immediate access to dog parks. Should disabled persons be prevented from allowing their service dogs to enjoy outdoor playtime and off-duty relaxation via a tether?

Dog owners who hike and camp in parks where dogs must be restrained. Should these owners be forced to leave their dogs behind on these mutually-enjoyable adventures because they are not allowed to safely tether their dogs while resting on the trail or while in campsites?

Owners who live in residential developments where fences are prohibited or restricted to a height insufficient to safely contain a dog. Should their dogs be denied outdoor exercise and playtime on tethers?

Owners of hunting dogs, field trial dogs, and dogs properly conditioned to be humanely tethered outdoors in conjunction with training, hunting, and events.

Owners of sled dogs who use tethers and weatherproof dog houses to ensure the comfort and safety of sledding breeds that thrive in arctic climates.

And what about owners of escape-artist dogs? Not every owner is able to stay with their dogs 24-7. Dog owners have jobs, school, children, and other obligations. Tethering with proper access to shade, shelter, and water may keep an escape-artist dog safe when a fence does not.

The issue is complex, and publications on tethering yield conflicting information. Proponents of anti-tethering laws often cite statistics that appear to indicate that tethered dogs are more likely to become aggressive. However, the conclusions about possible detrimental effects of tethering fail to isolate tethering as the direct cause of these problems. For example, was the dog’s inappropriate behavior caused by the tether, or did it result from prior or concurrent neglect, abuse, teasing, or some other factor?

What do the experts say?

A Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine study on sled dogs concluded that “our findings provide no evidence that tethering was any more or less detrimental to dog welfare than being housed in pens” and urged additional controlled studies.1

The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) prohibits facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act from using tethering as a means of primary enclosure for dogs unless approved in writing. This rule was subsequently clarified to recognize that under certain circumstances the use of tethering may be entirely appropriate and humane. APHIS additionally stated that the rule did not intend to imply that tethering of dogs under all circumstances is inhumane, nor that tethering under any circumstances must be prohibited.2

Both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have issued policy statements regarding animal welfare and the humane care of dogs, and both strongly condemn neglect and cruelty. However, neither organization has a specific policy statement on tethering.

The AKC supports use of cruelty and negligence laws to address a broad range of issues of animal mistreatment regardless of the source. AKC advocates for proper care and humane treatment of dogs that include an adequate and nutritious diet, clean water, clean living conditions, regular veterinary care, kind and responsive human companionship, and training in appropriate behavior. The AKC’s Care and Conditions of Dogs Policy states, among other provisions, that a dog’s primary enclosure shall be constructed and maintained so that dogs are securely confined and does not cause injury to the dogs. Protection from adverse or extreme weather conditions must be provided. Dogs should have play and exercise on a daily basis and daily positive human contact and socialization.

The AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division states, “The AVMA has not adopted specific policy on tethering as proposals to date have been based primarily on various groups and individuals’ perspectives rather than on actual data, and because the conditions under which dogs may be tethered are so highly variable. The impacts of tethering on dogs have not been well quantified and appear to be substantially impacted by breed, environmental conditions (e.g., substrate, climate, and what is available to the dog to occupy its time), opportunities for contact with conspecifics and people, and the duration of time the dog is confined.”

Responsible owners use a variety of creative indoor and outdoor solutions to care for their dogs. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and owners are encouraged to carefully evaluate each individual dog’s age, health, coat type, conditioning, and unique characteristics when determining the best ways to provide housing, safe confinement, playtime, training, socialization and other care.

Seong C. Yeon, A Comparison of Tethering and Pen Confinement of Dogs, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, (2001, Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Inc.), 4(4), 257-270.

Federal Register, Vol. 62, No. 186, Sep. 25, 1997, Rules and Regulations, 50244.