By DOTTY NIST
The practice of tethering dogs, also known as chaining or tying up a dog, received thorough discussion at the August 6 meeting of the Walton County Animal Control Ordinance Committee. The committee was appointed three months ago to make recommendations for revisions to the county’s animal control ordinance in the interest of animal safety and welfare.
Among concerns expressed by Committee Chairman Bill Bard was that tethering dogs for extended periods of time would make them more aggressive and more likely to bite people, including children in households.
The state of Georgia recently made tethering of dogs without human supervision illegal, and the state of Tennessee prohibits tethering in an inhumane manner without access to food, water, and shelter. The Humane Society of the United States classifies continuous tethering of dogs inhumane and warns that it can turn friendly and docile dogs neurotic and aggressive.
Lois Marlow, Walton County Animal Control supervisor, said she had not seen evidence of tethering making local dogs unhappy or vicious except in cases where chains were very short or where two or more dogs were chained close to each other.
She estimated that “a good 75 percent of the county tethers their animals.”
Marlow added that in her experience most temperament problems in dogs result from dogs not getting human contact and attention from their owners.
She observed that it is not always possible for dog owners to put up a fence to enclose their animals where they reside, and that some homeowner associations actually prohibit fences.
Committee member Lois La Seur remarked that county code limits front fences to four feet on many lots, a height that many dogs can jump. She added that dogs are often “inventive” in escaping over and under fences.
La Seur did not see tethering for short periods as being cruel to an animal.
Bard agreed that, according to reports, anxiousness and aggressiveness arise with continuous rather than short-term tethering.
Committee member Ann McQueen had heard of ordinances in some areas that limit tethering to a three-hour maximum and prohibit overnight tethering. She agreed with Bard that tethering as a primary means of confinement was a bad idea but was concerned about the economic impact that would result from any possible legal restrictions on tethering. “People love their pets and hard times have fallen all over Walton County,” she said.
Marlow said that Walton County Animal Control had received approximately 400 animals in recent months from owners who could no longer afford their food and upkeep.
Roger Adams, a local dog breeder attending the meeting, agreed that tethering as a primary means of confinement was not advisable. He said he did not use it with his animals.
Adams commented that a dog has two choices in a confrontation with another, to “flee or fight.”
“A tethered animal cannot flee, he must fight,” he explained.
Adams added that he had seen chained animals get all tangled up in the tether and end up barely able to stay upright. He recommended that if tethering is allowed, humane conditions such as adequate food, water and shelter be addressed as part of the ordinance.
He said his main reason for attending the meeting had been concern that a very restrictive animal control ordinance would be proposed for Walton County, similar to those recently adopted in Volusia County and Los Angeles, CA. ‘I’m here to see that you don’t do that,” he said.
Adams also stated his opposition to a mandatory spay/neuter program. Bard commented that reports that such a program was being proposed for Walton County had been “false.”
Bard added that, while he would like to see people spay or neuter their animals, “nobody is trying to force you to do it.”
It was McQueen’s opinion that such a mandatory program would indeed have been proposed if dog breeders on the committee had not sounded an alarm.
Committee member Kasey Cuchens commented that what she and other committee members are seeking is a way to financially assist people in having their animals spayed or neutered, in order to change the situation of numerous stray and homeless animals being euthanized every month.
At the close of the meeting there was consensus among committee members that tethers should be required to be of a proper length, from 10 feet to five times the length of the animal, and not overly heavy.
This citizen committee is holding meetings every two weeks, and the public is invited to attend and offer comments and input. Meetings take place at 4:30 p.m. on first and third Wednesdays at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 20.
By DOTTY NIST