Animal cruelty: Next battle, free dogs from tethers
ELIZABETH EVANS The York Dispatch
York Dispatch
Updated:08/27/2010 01:22:35 PM EDT

Another dog fight is brewing in Pennsylvania.

Animal-rights advocates are supporting House Bill 1254, which would outlaw the continuous chaining -- called tethering -- of dogs.

The effort is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, according to Sarah Speed, the Humane Society's Pennsylvania state director.

"It's a very hot issue that's getting a lot of attention right now,"

Speed said. "I would like to see a bill that goes farther. ... We'd like to see some changes made. I've been having ongoing meetings with the House Judiciary Committee to work on it."

The proposal would outlaw tethering between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., with 15-minute exemptions.

Currently, state law requires tethered dogs to have available food, water and an airtight box. But the law has no provision for extreme weather conditions, according to Melissa Smith, executive director of the York County SPCA.

"Unequivocally, I am supportive of the idea that a dog should not be permitted to live its life tethered to a box," Smith said. "We all know dogs crave companionship, and to tie a dog out is torturous. It's like making someone live as a hermit for his entire life. It's so frustrating and so sad."

'Miserable existence': Speed said there are other problems with tethering as well.

"Often you find imbedded collars in tethering cases," she said. "It's really a neglect issue. ... For a social animal, it's just a miserable existence."

Tethered animals are at greater risk of attack from other dogs and wild animals such as coyotes, Speed said.

They also are more likely to be aggressive, according to Speed, because a tethered dog can't make a choice when its "flight or fight" instinct kicks in.

"If a dog is left alone and unsocialized and a toddler walks by, it's a scary thing," she said.

But both Speed and Smith say the bill needs some tweaking, and state Rep. James Casorio Jr., D-Westmoreland, agrees.

New proposal: Casorio plans to introduce a new tethering bill, hopefully during the current legislative session, according to Michael Herzing of the House Democratic Communications Office.

Casorio's bill would protect dogs 24 hours a day, as opposed to just certain times of the day. The bill would restrict tethering "to an appropriate number of hours and would propose further limits on tethering during temperature and other weather extremes," according to a news release from Herzing's office.

The bill would also propose a tiered system of penalties for violators, ranging from written warnings for first-time offenders to possible fines, jail time and even forfeiture of their dogs for repeated convictions.

Input: Casorio is still working on tweaking the language of his proposed bill, Herzing said, adding that "everybody has input," from animal-rights groups to dog owners.

Casorio was the prime sponsor of Pennsylvania's 2008 puppy-mill law, and noted that its passage provided "important new protections" for dogs.

"Putting reasonable tethering restrictions in state law is the next step we need to take," he said.

Thirteen states either ban or restrict tethering of dogs, according to the Animal Law Coalition.

Three of those states -- California, Nevada and Texas -- restrict the amount of time a dog can be tethered per day, according to Laura Allen, executive director of the Animal Law Coalition. The other 10 states restrict the manner of tethering, she said.

Frustration: Smith said cruelty investigators can't always do what they feel is morally or ethically right for a dog, because they can only work within the confines of the law -- something the public often doesn't understand.

"That's one of the situations that causes us the most frustration," Smith said. "Because we see these dogs that have what Pennsylvania law requires them to have, but they don't have what dogs want most, which is companionship. Therein lies the struggle for us, because we can only go by what the law says."

Humane police officers can certainly talk to owners about the hazards of constant tethering, Smith said, and urge them to reconsider or to give up their dog. But it doesn't always work.

"At some point it becomes a power struggle," she said. "They look at the dog as a possession, not as a living animal with needs."

-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at levans@yorkdis patch.com, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.

Animal cruelty: Next battle, free dogs from tethers - York Dispatch