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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tethered-dog photos disturbing to Texas council

Posted on Wed, Jan. 16, 2008

Star-Telegram Staff Writer
FORT WORTH -- The pictures were upsetting: a slit-eyed dog chained to a tree in a bare dirt yard with no way to get to food or water. Another dog kept on a chain so short it could barely move.

And those were the ones that the city animal control department felt it could show in public.

"Our animal cruelty officers encounter many examples of dog tethering that are far worse," said Scott Hanlan, assistant public health director.

It could soon be illegal to chain or tether a dog in Fort Worth, except in limited circumstances. City Council members, who were visibly angered by the pictures, could vote on a change in the ordinance next week, including a $2,000 fine.

Hanlon said there's evidence that chaining dogs makes them more dangerous. One study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that animals that are kept roped or chained are 2.8 times more likely to bite people than other dogs.

"I find the photographs you just showed us disturbing to say the least," Mayor Mike Moncrief said. "I guess perhaps in my own mind the most appropriate punishment for those who choose to treat animals that way is to tether those owners themselves for a period of time."


If the council approves the ordinance next week, it would be illegal to keep a dog on a chain or rope unless the owner is present. Hanlan said animal control officers plan to start educating owners about their options, including inexpensive ones. It can cost as little as $200 to build a dog run out of chain-link fence, and dog runs are much more humane than chains or ropes, Hanlan said.

City ordinance already requires dogs to be kept in fenced yards or some other type of secure enclosure.

Other cities, including Austin and Irving, have passed similar ordinances. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has endorsed so-called anti-tethering laws as a more sensible alternative to laws that focus on one breed of dog, such as pit bulls. The Humane Society of the United States publishes a pamphlet telling activists how to get similar laws passed in their community.

Street culture

City animal control officials say part of the problem is the street culture, whose members value dogs as a status symbol. Dogfighters sometimes use heavy chains to strengthen a dog or make it more aggressive.

Suzette Watkins, who owns a kennel in the Riverside neighborhood, has taken pictures of chained animals around Fort Worth and sent them to council members and the news media.

"You look tough if you've got a chained, mean dog by the side of you," she said. "It's like a loaded gun; they don't realize what that dog is capable of."

Chaining dogs hurts them on several levels, Watkins said. It deprives them of exercise and keeps them from interacting with people or other dogs.

"By nature, dogs are social beings. For them to be tied up ... it's no life for a dog," she said.

A larger problem

The issue of chained-up dogs is one facet of a citywide problem. Fort Worth officials have been trying for years to do something about irresponsible pet owners who they say contribute to the proliferation of stray and abused animals. Thousands of animals are kept without proper vaccinations, spaying or neutering, training, city licenses or a decent environment.

City animal control officers collect about 25,500 dogs and cats a year. At one point, the city had to euthanize three-fourths of those animals. The death rate is now down to about 70 percent, despite Fort Worth's rapid population growth and an increase in the number of animals brought in. At the same time, the animal control department has been requiring people ticketed for animal violations to attend classes on proper animal care.

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