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Archive for Saturday, July 3, 2004

Snarled intent

July 3, 2004

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Passing a law with the intent of enforcing it not uniformly but only in extreme cases seems like poor policy.

The desire to prevent dogs from being mistreated in Lawrence is admirable, but the anti-tethering law being considered by city commissioners seems misguided.

The limits it sets are extreme. A dog can be tethered outside for no more than an hour at a time. It then must be off the line for at least three hours before being returned and can't be tethered for more than three hours in a 24-hour period. An hour isn't very long. In nice weather, with water and shelter, a dog could be happily and safely sleeping under a shade tree for longer than that.

The goal of animal advocates doesn't seem to be to have a law that will be strictly enforced. What they want is a law that can be easily enforced in selected cases. They are looking for law that can be used as a hook to punish not people who just leave their dogs on a tether for 70 minutes but to catch people who tether their dogs for more than an hour AND show an overall pattern of abusive treatment of their dogs.

People who spoke in favor of the measure referred to dogs that are "chained and tethered for a lifetime." They made valid points that this is unacceptable for dogs, which often become aggressive as a result. But the ordinance isn't talking about tethering "for a lifetime;" it's talking about tethering for an hour. Long-term tethering already would be covered by city ordinances concerning abuse of animals.

The head of the "Lawrence Anti-Tethering Committee" reportedly said, "This ordinance is in no way intended to keep people from chaining up their dogs outside on a nice day." That may not be its intent, but if it is enforced that certainly will be the effect.

We share City Commissioner David Dunfield's concern that "The difference between 'continuous' and 'one hour' is pretty dramatic." It's just not good policy to try to solve one problem -- in this case, animal abuse -- by passing a broad law that, if strictly enforced, would affect many people who don't contribute to that problem.

Commissioners already have given first approval to the anti-tethering ordinance, but this is a measure that deserves more discussion before it heads to final passage.

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