CORRECTION: This article implies that there is not a tethering ordinance in Northampton, but that is incorrect. The current ordinance allows for animals to be tethered no longer than 12 hours per day. The point is that, without a complete ban, or severe restrictions such as in Suffolk, VA., there is no way to effectively enforce it (who actually puts a timer on it?). Currently, the Sheriff’s department and animal control essentially have their hands tied.
Improper tethering, the use of something, such as a rope or chain, by which a dog is fastened so that it can range only within a set radius, can lead to death, mistreatment, excessive barking and vicious temperament in a dog. In 2013 the City Council of Suffolk passed an ordinance prohibiting all unattended tethering of dogs. The code, Section 10-42 is law: “Unattended tethering of dogs prohibited: It shall be unlawful to tether any unattended dog whether or not the dog has been provided adequate space.” Violation of the ordinance is a class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $250.00.
While Northampton County has many dogs living happy, healthy lives, some dogs are still chained or tethered in one place as a means of restraint, some tied up constantly or for many hours at a time. Should Northampton be more concerned with these dogs? Is it time to create an ordinance that will not only protect the animal, but also provide a way for county officials to incorporate tethering regulations into effective community dog management strategies?
Dogs are social creatures who need to be part of a group, whether it is part of a human family or with other animals. Constant tethering can severely damage them physically, socially, and psychologically. Dogs chained to a tree or post will often be unhappy, anxious and often aggressive. According to Jim Mason, probably the most knowledgeable person on the Shore when it comes to the legal aspects of animal welfare, “Keeping a dog chained 24-7 is cruel, inhumane and backward. Caring communities like our neighbors in Suffolk and Hampton have stopped this with ordinances banning unattended tethering.”
The physical problems associated with being continuously tethered include necks that become raw and sore, and collars that can painfully grow into their skin. Unable to move freely, they are vulnerable to insect bites and other parasites.
Tethered dogs, while being socially neglected, may also suffer from irregular feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care and being exposed to extreme temperatures. During the summer in Northampton, they may not receive adequate water or protection from the sun. Dogs chained all day to a tree or post will also have to eat and sleep in an area contaminated with urine and feces. This severe neglect can lead to neurotic behavior, making the dog difficult to approach to give even minimal affection. They can be easily ignored by their owners.
We can’t fence in the entire county, so what are the alternatives? Some dogs do travel, and can wreak havoc along the way. If the dog must restrained, attaching a dog’s leash to a long line—such as a clothesline or a manufactured device known as a pulley run—and letting the animal have a larger area in which to move about is preferable to tethering the dog to a stationary object. This option may also carry many of the same risks associated with tethering, such as inadvertent hanging, attacks on or by other animals, lack of socialization and safety.
User submitted information from Natalie Rinker-Good, the current ordinance in Northampton
Northampton County, Virginia
May 10, 2004
No animal shall be tethered for more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period. Tethers must be at least 10 feet long.
§ 95.05 TETHERING OF ANIMALS.
(A) An animal owner in the county shall allow each animal to (i) easily stand, sit, lie, turn about and make all other normal body movements in a comfortable, normal position for the animal and (ii) interact safely with other animals in the enclosure. When an animal is tethered, “adequate space” means a tether that permits the above actions and is appropriate to the age, size, and health of the animal; is attached to the animal by a properly applied collar, halter, or harness configured so as to protect the animal from injury and prevent the animal or tether from becoming entangled with other objects or animals, or from gaining access to public thoroughfares, or from extending over an object or edge that could result in the strangulation or injury of the animal; and is at least ten feet in length or three times the length of the animal whichever is longer, as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail, except when the animal is being walked on a leash or is attached by a tether to a lead line. When freedom of movement would endanger the animal, temporarily and appropriately restricting movement of the animal according to professionally accepted standards for the species is considered provision of adequate space. Provided, however, that no animal shall be tethered for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period.
(B) Animals involved in agricultural activities shall not be subject to this section.
(C) It shall be an unlawful act if any person violates any provision of this section and it shall constitute a Class 4 misdemeanor.
Aside from an ordinance, enforcement approach, our boots on the ground advocate organizations focused on reaching out to pet owners with information, resources and services on pet care can be effective. However, trying to rescue all tethered dogs may not be the best approach. Removing the dog adds to the already overwhelming number of dogs competing for room in the co-county shelter, which is already at capacity. Working with owners to improve the situations for their existing dogs is a valid best option, finding positive, constructive ways to empower owners to unchain their dogs themselves.
While tethering a dog may seem like an inherently local enforcement issue, at the national level, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a statement in the July 2, 1996, Federal Register against tethering: “Our experience in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act has led us to conclude that continuous confinement of dogs by a tether is inhumane. A tether significantly restricts a dog’s movement. A tether can also become tangled around or hooked on the dog’s shelter structure or other objects, further restricting the dog’s movement and potentially causing injury.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded in a study that the dogs most likely to attack are male, unneutered, and chained.
As a community, we must understand that tethering a dog is a cruel fate for what is by nature a highly social animal. Any city, county, or state that bans this practice is a safer, more humane community.
Editor’s Note: Charles Knitter submitted a valid point to the Cape Charles Mirror, that the Suffolk law is not a complete ban. Tethering is allowed by right at the state level and localities may not pass an outright ban…only tethering restrictions. If you read the Suffolk law closely you will see it is a restriction and not a complete ban. An outright ban can only happen at the state level and any local ban will likely be overturned in court when/if challenged.