Last month, I lost my best friend. She died because I made a tragic mistake. My dog, Brandy, whom I had raised from a puppy and loved like a baby, strangled to death after becoming entangled in a chain that tethered her to a stake. She died because I'd trusted a chain to keep her safe.
I've since learned that chains do exactly the opposite, and that towns all over the country are passing ordinances banning the chaining of dogs. I am painfully aware of how much we need these laws.
I thought I was doing Brandy a favor. I thought she would like being outside during the day. My parents were temporarily watching her while my husband and I were purchasing a house with a large back yard for her. Something frightened Brandy, or maybe she tried to chase a squirrel or maybe she was just chasing her tail. Whatever the case, a simple mishap turned lethal. Now, she is gone forever and all I can do is miss her and warn others not to make the same mistake.
Since Brandy's death, I have become uncomfortably aware of how many dogs spend their days on the end of a chain. I never really noticed them much before, but now I see them everywhere -- tied to dilapidated doghouses outside farmhouses on country roads, barking and straining at their chains behind city townhouses. I even see them in back yards in my own neighborhood, surrounded by a circle of dirt, the grass worn away long ago by their constant pacing of the same square inches.
I have heard horrifying stories of other dogs who died because of tragic accidents like Brandy's, or, more disturbingly, because they were sitting ducks for any cruel person who wandered by. I've heard of dogs being poisoned, stolen, shot and even set on fire by people annoyed by their barking or simply looking for something to do.
I know now that most dogs who live on chains will never leave them alive. Unlike Brandy, they aren't tied up just until the new home is ready or until the family comes home from work or school. They live on those chains, day in and day out, 365 days a year, no matter how hot or cold it gets, no matter much they bark and whimper, pleading to be let inside. They will die on those chains because they never, ever leave them, not even for a few minutes a day.
We should think of dogs as precious gifts, to be treasured and protected. We should no more think of putting a chain around a dog's neck and leaving her out in the yard alone than we would think of leaving an unlocked Mercedes idling with the keys in the ignition. Dogs are just about as smart as a 2-year-old child -- and just about as vulnerable. Someone who tied their toddler up in the backyard with no more than a piece of plywood for protection from the elements would be charged with neglect; so should a person who does the same to a dog.
More and more cities and counties are recognizing this -- and doing something about it. Residents of one New Jersey county, appalled after a chained dog froze to death last year, got measures banning chaining passed in four towns. More than 50 other jurisdictions across the nation have passed similar laws.
(This year, the Lawrence City Commission passed an ordinance that prohibits people from keeping a dog chained for more than one hour at a time, for a maximum of three hours a day, with required three-hour breaks between chainings.)
If there had been a law against chaining in the city where my parents live, we would have figured out another way for Brandy to spend her days -- and we would have more days left to spend with her.
-- Texas resident Angela Pellum wrote this for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; Web site: www.helpinganimals.com.