In the past, Pennsylvania winters have brought the gift of anxiety to both dog rescuers and caring citizens who were forced to witness the suffering of neighborhood dogs from the warmth of their kitchen windows. They watched as dogs were hung from tethers in backyards — cold, hungry, thirsty, miserable, and, most of all, isolated.
Anyone who stepped forward to ease the suffering of these dogs was told to "Mind their business," or, worse, arrested for the "crime" of providing food, water, or medical care to one of God's creatures.
As founder of the first national nonprofit focusing solely on backyard dogs, I spent more than 13 years leading efforts to free dogs from chains in Pennsylvania. In just one example, I recall watching two Cambria County dogs fight to stay alive in the subzero temperatures of a miserable January day. The skinny white husky huddled in her flimsy, strawless house, while a short-haired boxer in the same yard shivered and shook as she devoured every morsel of the food I offered, skin taut over protruding ribs.
It was obvious to all who possessed a beating heart that these dogs — and the thousands like them left chained to suffer the frigid elements — deserved better than the life to which they'd been sentenced.
Yet state law lagged behind what most understood to be moral truth.
Until today, and this holiday season Pennsylvania's chained dogs have a law to protect them.
In June, Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive animal care package that prohibits tethering for more than nine hours a day, and — even better— 30 minutes or less in temperatures below 32 degrees.
While some may argue that a nine-hour law will be difficult to enforce, I maintain that a difficult law is better than no law at all when it comes to protecting man's best friend.
During my tenure on the front lines of efforts for chained dogs, I was left with no legal recourse to help them. I'm thrilled to say that is no longer the case.
To ensure that the new laws are enforced and upheld by humane agents and police officers, I offer three tips for concerned citizens:
- Keep a copy of the law on-hand. Most humane officers are well-versed in the new rules, and will make a reasonable effort to ensure they are enforced. However, many police officers will be less familiar with new laws, and you will want to have a copy in hand while discussing any cases with officers.
- Document the case. No one is more concerned about getting a neighborhood dog help than you are, because you're witnessing the neglect daily. In order to relieve both your suffering and the dog's, do the legwork required to prove the law isn't being followed. Keep a journal of the times of day you see the dog left chained in the yard. Take photos, and consider setting up a live feed that records more than nine hours if necessary. An investment of a few days on your end can save a dog from a lifetime of misery on a chain.
- Accept the responsibility to testify when necessary. A humane officer may drop a case if he or she doesn't have eyewitness testimony. While I know it can be scary, the dogs need us to be their voices. They can't speak for themselves.
I dreamed that this day would come for dogs as far back as 2010, when I chained myself to a doghouse on the Pennsylvania State Capitol steps for 54 days advocating for an tethering law. It didn't happen then, but now, in 2017, animal advocates and concerned citizens who came together to make this dream a reality can finally present chained dogs with the justice they deserve.
I, for one, couldn't be happier about it.