Proposal would unchain dogs in Anniston
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Sep 23, 2013 | 10124 views |  0 comments | 120 120 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A dog owner talks with Anniston Animal Control officer Bea Vedovato about the condition of her dogs that are tied to a chain in her back yard along Pelham Heights Road in Anniston. (Photo by Trent Penny)
A dog owner talks with Anniston Animal Control officer Bea Vedovato about the condition of her dogs that are tied to a chain in her back yard along Pelham Heights Road in Anniston. (Photo by Trent Penny)
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When Bea Vedovato and Stan Rooks pulled up to a home on Pelham Heights Monday, they found a familiar site: a very thin, white pit bull puppy, tied to a running line, covered in mange, with no clean water.

A white plastic barrel served as a dog house. On the other side of the yard, Vedovato and Rooks found another adult dog tied up. Its only water source contained worms.

Anniston’s Animal Control officers see dogs living in such conditions on a regular basis, but a proposed local law is aimed at changing that. The Anniston City Council will consider Tuesday an ordinance that will make it illegal to leave animals tethered — tied to stationary objects with chain, rope, leashes or other items — without a person present. If approved, the proposal would make tethering dogs a finable offense: up to $100 for the first instance, $250 for the second instance and $500 for each instance thereafter.

“If a family wants a pet, they need to invite it into their home and let it be part of their family,” said Councilwoman Millie Harris, who is bringing the ordinance before the council.

Harris, a longtime advocate for animal welfare, said the proposed law is about more than being humane to man’s best friend.

“Dogs are pack animals, and they need to be socialized — it creates aggression,” she said of leaving dogs tied up with little interaction with their owners.

Vedovato agreed. She said more than 90 percent of the calls Animal Control responds to are about dogs tied up and neglected. They are at increased risk of injury, theft and attack by other animals. Such dogs are often left exposed to the elements or their own filth. Many are burdened with chains that are much too heavy.

“They become lawn ornaments,” she said.

Although the city doesn’t have a problem with dog fighting that she’s aware of, Vedovato said, tethering dogs separately is a known mode of keeping dogs for fighting rings, because it increases their aggression.

Even aggressive dogs left chained near homes for protection are unlikely to protect a home from intruders, she added, because they become extremely territorial over the ground where they are chained.

“If a dog isn’t going into your home, he’s not going to protect your home,” she said.

Rhonda Parker is chair of Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation, a nonpartisan political action committee that supports ending chaining of dogs statewide, but as part of a comprehensive legislation that establishes requirements for outdoor sheltering of dogs.

The question, said Parker, is “what are you going to do now with an unchained dog?”

When cities outlaw tethering town by town, owners of tied-up animals have to figure out how to keep them. Statewide rules for outside shelter could guide them in that, Parker said.

“You don’t want them to put the dog in a four-by-four pen,” she said. “That’s not a good life for a dog either.”

A new organization has emerged in Shelby and Bibb counties to help dog owners provide alternatives to tethering. Cornelia Jones, who heads Alabama Chained Dogs, said she hopes to expand with chapters throughout the state.

“Most of the time, it’s not because people don’t want their dogs and love them,” she said. “But they don’t have the funds to keep them and fence them.”

Dr. Barry Nicholls, a veterinarian with Animal Medical Center in Anniston, said he feels that the city’s proposed ordinance may help raise awareness of what dogs do and don’t need. If owners would look at better ways to keep their pets contained, Nicholls said, he believes it would improve the mental and physical health of the animals.

“Tethers, ties, chains — all of that scares me,” he said.

Nicholls said he’s seen cases in which dogs tethered in enclosed spaces have jumped their fences and hung themselves and other instances in which animals may have gotten tangled up in their cords or chains and injured themselves.

In terms of possible increases in aggression from tethering, Nicholls said “dogs that are able to get plenty of exercise and fill that activity void are going to be better socialized as far as people and other dogs,” he said.

“The best case scenario is a dog that is well socialized, taken a lot of places and exposed to other dogs and people,” he said.

The ordinance, he said, “is a good step in helping protect animals and showing that we do care in the community.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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