Friday, November 5, 2010

Dogs Deserve Better

When I was growing up in Ohio, it was commonplace to chain our dogs to doghouses. Most of them had no more than three or four feet of chain. Buck, my dad’s Brittany spaniel, lived his entire life at the end of that chain, within four feet of his doghouse.

It was my job to feed and water Buck every day after school. I dreaded this chore. Because Buck was so desperate for any type of warmth or contact, he lunged against his chain and jumped on me. His paws were inevitably muddied with the feces and filth that surrounded his little wooden doghouse. After shoving him off me, sometimes pulling him off by his thick leather collar, I righted his bowls and filled them. Then I walked away. The whole process couldn’t have given Buck more than thirty seconds of human contact. Once a day. For sixteen years.

While my childhood was longer ago than I care to admit, and dog care practices have come a long way since then, many dogs in our community continue to live their lives on the end of chains.

Such an existence is bleak beyond compare. Like Buck, most chained dogs have little room to move. Their once grassy area turns quickly to beaten dirt or mud. Their chain frequently becomes tangled or tips over food and water bowls. Their doghouses are often inadequate against the elements. And perhaps worst of all, they are socially isolated.

Like humans, dogs are social creatures. Even in their domesticated state, dogs crave the companionship of other pack members. When dogs don’t have other dogs to hang out with, they create pack members wherever they can find them—more often than not with us humans. Keeping a dog alone on the end of a chain frustrates this intense need for companionship.

When a dog lives his life on the end of a chain or in a small pen, he is often neglected in many other important ways. Chained dogs are less likely to receive adequate nourishment, shelter, or veterinary care. In fact, it is hard for many dog lovers to understand why people who chain their dogs have a dog at all.

If you know a dog who lives chained or penned, it is possible to help. Visit Dogs Deserve Better for ideas on how to compassionately approach people who chain their dogs. You can also learn how to work for legislation in your community that will prohibit or restrict this cruel practice.

In fact, residents of the Town of Amherst will debate a proposed bylaw at their fall town meeting this week. The bylaw would place limits on the ways outdoor dogs can be confined, including banning the use of heavy, short chains. The bylaw also prohibits any but working dogs from being confined outdoors at night. Based on similar ordinances in Greenfield and East Longmeadow, the Amherst proposal was initiated by citizens who care about dogs.

As I write this entry, my dogs are curled up next to me on the couch or snoring away on soft beds near the woodstove. Though it is a cold November evening, many dogs in our community are not so fortunate.


  1. I do agree..and growing up had a similar situation with my first dog. Although I do recall my grandmother adopting an old husky that she named Prince when I was a kid. The dog came from a pound and wasnt house trained. This dog lived in a dog house in her back yard. Although it lived on the end of a chain in the back yard - my grandmother who lived alone loved this dog, and took care to make sure he had cozy accomidations in his dog house. She made him warm dinners in the winter with food scraps. I even recall her walking him. He provided her with an element of security, and she provided him with food, shelter and love. This dog was older when she adopted him and would likly never have been adopted - but more likely put down. Although I whole heartedly agree that this is no way for a dog to live, I also recognise that barn cats have often similarly hard, lonesome, and rough lives. Yet, rather than being put down people do adopt barn cats - that live their whole lives with little veternary care, and spend nights out in the elements...rather than inside. I agree that society in general needs to better care for animals, but in some instances, for a dog - as with a barn cat (living outside), a life at the end of a chain, may be its only opportunity at life.

  2. Thank you for sharing - I had the same experience when I was a child with our family dog and have horrible feelings of guilt now that I did not give that poor dog more love and attention. How lonely she must have been.