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Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

A short leash

A proposed tethering law is well-intentioned but misses the mark

June 17, 2004

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City commissioners soon might do well to remember that many times it is better to educate than legislate.

A proposed ordinance that would limit the number of hours a dog in Lawrence could be tethered to a line or chain would be an excellent issue to which to apply that principle. Midge Grinstead, director of the Lawrence Humane Society, has proposed an ordinance that would prohibit tethering a dog for more than an hour at a time or more than three hours during any day.

Grinstead said the ordinance -- modeled after one passed in Wichita last year -- eliminates another opportunity for people to be cruel to animals. Grinstead said tethering of dogs often was cruel because it required animals to stay outside during inclement weather. She said there's also a threat to public safety because dogs on a chain become more aggressive and likely to bite. There've also been suggestions that several dogs who are tethered in Lawrence are kept by people who raise them to fight.

Protecting animals from cruelty is an admirable and worthy goal. That's why the city already has laws against animal cruelty -- laws that already cover some of the issues targeted by the tethering proposal.

First, the suggestion that this law should be passed because people who have fighting dogs leave them tied up outside is odd. It already is illegal to fight dogs. It is far more important to punish people for that activity than for tethering.

The ordinance also doesn't seem to recognize that in certain situations, when weather isn't extremely hot or cold, a dog could be tethered for hours and be fine. With a long chain and proper food, water and shelter, tethering could be no less abusive than keeping a dog in a fenced yard.

Some ardent animal rights advocates likely would disagree. That's their prerogative. But just like raising a child, there are different opinions on how to provide for a pet's health and safety. For example, some parents make their children go to bed at 8 p.m.; others wait until 10 p.m. There's no law governing such activity, and it is hard to believe that parents would either want or need one.

If the Humane Society feels strongly about tethering, it should start an education campaign on its evils. Perhaps commissioners could offer the city's resources in that campaign. But commissioners should not offer the ordinance space in the city's law books.

To do so would be to set a dangerous precedent. It would open the door for city commissioners to regulate the smallest details of our personal lives.

That's too long a leash to give to a pack of politicians.

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