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Breaking the chains of ignorance and cruelty
04.10.07 | No Comments

Breaking the chains of ignorance and cruelty
Massachusetts is another place where Dogs Deserve Better

As published in Pets! Magazine, January, 2007 (www.petspub.com)

In the ‘70s, many of us cried when we read Alex Haley’s “Roots” and saw the mini-series later that decade. Scenes of Africans chained in the dark cubes of that boat are haunting. It is blatantly obvious to most that it is wrong, and disturbing that it wasn’t considered “wrong” at one time.

Someday, we might find that same reaction to witnessing a caged or chained animal on the screen. Dogs Deserve Better sure hopes so.

All of us have seen or heard about a dog that spends his days on two feet of chain, his dirty dishes on the pavement in the driveway. His owners space out to the TV inside while the dog paces in circles, maybe dreaming of running with a pack through the woods. He might just dream of playing, walking or sitting next to his owners while they watch that TV. Excessive chaining and caging is a huge problem in this country; we’ve all had neighbors who thoughtlessly chain their dog outside for countless hours. “Oh, he’s fine out there. He loves the air.” Perhaps it was the relentless barking that brought them to that interestingly convenient conclusion.

Tammy Grimes started Dogs Deserve Better in August of 2002 to combat this important issue, establishing it with the strong belief that dogs don’t deserve to be treated like prisoners. They long to be pets. Since this non-profit advocacy organization has mushroomed, there are now representatives throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and France.

“More and more people are willing to say this isn’t ok,” said Grimes, who was inspired to start the organization after driving by a chained dog named Worthless, who she ultimately adopted and named Bo, for years. “When I first started, very few people local to me would openly state that it was not ok to chain your dog 24/7. Now, many do.”

Tiffany Kellaway is the Massachusetts representative for Dogs Deserve Better, and also lends a hand in Rhode Island, where she commutes daily to college. “To change the life of even one dog is an immense thing,” said Kellaway. She’s has been working with, and for, animals much of her life. When she was a kid, she’d tell her mom she wanted to be a veterinarian and run her own office. At that office, she planned to “give food out for all the dogs that didn’t have any.” Doing rescue and animal welfare work is what fires her existence, so it was only natural she’d be a good fit for an organization such as Dogs Deserve Better, which she stumbled across when searching the Internet.

“I noticed that there was no full area representative for Massachusetts and I knew I wanted to help,” said Kellaway. “I know that chaining is a huge issue and that not every dog out there will be able to reached for help, but to make a difference in the lives that I can touch is very important to me.”

As with any moral social problem that begs serious change, education is the strongest weapon (in fact, Dogs Deserve Better hosts a “Chain Off” event where people compete for a prize by remaining chained to a dog house for as long as possible. It fosters an awareness of how it feels to the animal; perhaps there should be an event of this kind where people pretend to be a lab animal).

“I think [the ignorance over the issue] is changing,” said Grimes. “And we have a long way to go. But, we’ve come a long way in the past five years. I can see change. It’s hard to get through to people because it’s a generational aspect that has been passed down, and people do not like change. And they do not like anyone to tell them what to do with their ‘property.’ So while dogs are viewed as property and not family members, we will still encounter resistance.”

Animal cruelty laws are often a confusing and frustrating loop, and while it may be obvious to an animal lover that a creature is being treated cruelly, it doesn’t always translate to the court system. Rarely, remarks Grimes, does a case make it to court.

Many states already have laws in place that regulates the length of time a dog can be chained, won through diligent lobbying. That law hasn’t made its way through the political channels of Massachusetts yet, and it is something that Kellaway focuses her energy on to create awareness. “People who are concerned about the issue of chaining,” she said, “can write letters to legislators, congress or even local newspapers. On our Web site (www.dogsdeservebetter.org), we have some sample letters along with information on how to find out who should be written to depending on what area you live.”

Though Massachusetts ranks well as a state that protects basic needs of an animal, such as food, shelter, water and medical treatment, Kellaway says it is lacking in the more progressive areas of animal cruelty laws. “Many other places limit or prohibit the chaining, tethering and penning of dogs,” she said, “recognizing that this in its own is a form of neglect and often leads to far more serious neglect and abuse issues, not to mention that it is a safety concern for members of the community. In Massachusetts, an animal control officer or cruelty agent has his or her hands tied in terms of issues like this. As long as the dog has a dog house and food and water, they cannot do anything.”

Still, battles on behalf of animals can, and are, won. Approximately five lawyers work with Dogs Deserve Better on a volunteer basis. This is how a case typically works: when someone expresses concern about a tethered dog, they contact Dogs Deserve Better. A representative heads out to the property to assess the situation. An attempt is made to speak with the owner, either to educate the person or have the dog signed over.

“When a case falls under cruelty by Massachusetts laws,” said Kellaway, “which means the dog does not have proper food, shelter or water, or if there are signs of obvious neglect or abuse such as the dog being emaciated, obviously ill and not receiving veterinary treatment or signs of physical abuse, we then can contact an animal control officer and have the dog seized from the owner. If the owner is willing to sign over the dog to us in a case like this, then we can take the dog without having to wait for the animal control officer or cruelty officer to seize the dog for us.”

According to Kellaway, the chained dog problem is “huge.” Since, by nature, dogs are pack animals, when they are left alone it is mental torment. It, in fact, goes against this very social animal’s nature (this easily brings to mind the greyhound issue). Furthermore, often the dogs that are chained outside also means they are neglected in other areas. “They have to live, eat, sleep and defecate all within one small space, and that is all their lives consist of.”

Chained dogs, too, not only pose issues of cruelty but has other risks. Chained dogs, studies prove, are more apt to act aggressively. They become protective, and will sometimes kill or harm someone who enters this space. If the dog breaks free, it can also roam into the “wrong” situation, harming another person or animal. And in the end, the animal gets blamed, when we should be blaming the humans. Animals are simply a product of their upbringing. Though they have concern for other caged animals such as birds and lab animals, Grimes reminds us that more work can get done if there is a focus. Every animal cause has merit and needs advocates. For her, it started with the dogs.

“Sadly, there are many people that are just plain cruel and do not belong owning and animal at all,” said Kellaway. “Unfortunately, [chaining and caging] is something that is seen all too often. The aggression is easily seen, too – dogs that you can tell would harm you if you came close enough, lunging and snapping at you from the end of their leash. Sometimes, the dogs are happy to see you, wagging their tails and just long for some basic human interaction. Other times, they are so unsocialized that they will not even look up to acknowledge your presence, no matter how many treats you offer. They are just shells of the animal they could be. It is heartbreaking.”

Interested in volunteering, fostering a dog or adopting a dog? Contact Kellaway at NewEnglandDDB@gmail.com.

 

SIDEBAR:

HEAD: when saving animals leads to lawsuits

DROPCAP: On September 11 last year, Tammy Grimes, founder of Dogs Deserve Better, got a call from a woman named Kim Eicher. In her Pennsylvania neighborhood, Eicher had spotted an old German Shepherd lying in the mud, unable to get up and pawing at the air. Since legally she could not do anything, Grimes recommended calling the Humane Society. That same day, another person called about the dog, which prompted Grimes to race over to the situation. Grimes decided to take matters into her own hands and removed the dog from its owners, Steve and Lori Arnold, and moved the dog she dubbed “Doogie” to a safe home miles away.

“When Tammy got there,” said Kellaway, “she thought Doogie was already dead. That was how bad shape he was in. Upon closer inspection, she noticed he was alive, unable to do anything except lift his head to look around. She decided that she needed to take him then and there, or else he would die. She took Doogie and got him veterinary care, and a veterinarian also confirmed that his medical situation was purely due to neglect. His condition was horrible.”

“I felt we were too late,” echoed Grimes. “His back was to the road and he was just a sack of bones lying there.”

What was good for the dog was bad for Grimes. The owners contacted police, and days later, when Grimes refused to return Doogie, she was arrested for theft and receiving stolen property. Presently, Grimes awaits a trial by jury, as she and her attorney rejected a plea bargain that stipulated the return of Doogie in exchange for “Advanced Rehabilitation for Grimes.”

“All evidence in the case clearly points to the abuse and cruelty neglect on the part of the Arnolds,” said a press release issued on Nov. 27. “Pennsylvania anti-cruelty law is not being upheld in this case, and with eyewitnesses, video, photos and vet testimony, there is more than enough evidence to convict the Arnolds.”

At the same time this press release was issued, Doogie was taking a turn for the worse. But, as is in direct opposition to what the Arnolds claimed (that their dog was simply old and suffering from arthritis), he was regaining strength by December, up and moving around. “With normal food, water and exercise, Doogie is now in good health,” said Kellaway. If he is kept in the hands of Dogs Deserve Better supporters, he’ll learn that life isn’t about chains, either.

“What strikes me about this case is that it is a case at all,” said Grimes. “While I technically may have broken a law, there was already a law being broken before I came along. Yet, this fact is ignored. And the enforcement just is not there for animal cruelty cases. I hear it over and over and over again, people begging us for help because the ones who are supposed to be helping are just ignoring reports of cruelty. It saddens me, yet makes me more determined that we must continue to stand up, must continue to fight this apathy when it comes to our companion animals. They truly do not have a voice. We are all they have.”

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