Marion Group Seeks to Unleash Tethered Dogs

By on February 3rd, 2014
Snowman walks around while attached to a tree in front of an abandoned house. He is tethered to the tree 24/7, and his owner said he comes by to feed him once a day.

Taylor Gaines / WUFT

Snowman walks around while attached to a tree in front of an abandoned house. He is tethered to the tree 24/7, and his owner said he comes by to feed him once a day.

Snowman lives his life in about a 15-foot radius. His owner visits and feeds him once a day. Besides this, he has little to no interaction with people, let alone other dogs.

About a half mile off Florida State Road 326 in Ocala, at an abandoned house on a dirt road, Snowman eats, drinks and sleeps.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he is there.

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners will hear the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tethering Tuesday morning in Ocala at the County Commission offices. The task force was organized in October to investigate the adequacy of the current tethering laws.

Linda Norman, a board member for the Marion County Humane Society, said the organization has been fighting for about three years to ban tethering of dogs like Snowman that are chained up at one place all the time.

Norman, who is also a member of the seven-person task force, said it is important to find a way to ban cruel tethering without unfairly burdening all dog owners.

She said the task force will recommend for owners to be outside and within eye sight of the tethered dog, effectively prohibiting 24/7 and vacant-property tethering.

If someone needed to tether their dog to complete a temporary task, it would be allowed if the owner was still on the premises, she said.

“This is aimed at irresponsible dog owners,” Norman said. “The mom who’s cooking dinner or taking in groceries and tethering her dog temporarily is not the irresponsible dog owner.”

The recommendation also includes prohibiting dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered from being tethered, she said.

Trevor Johnson, the owner of Snowman and the abandoned home, visits and feeds his dog every day. He said Snowman stays at the vacant lot because his family has too many animals at home.

He doesn’t understand why owners like him are being targeted for the way they take care of their dogs.

“You’ve got people that got plenty of dogs, pit bulls, 50 pit bulls in their back yard and all that,” he said. “You think my family, we just gonna tie a stray dog up and don’t water him, don’t feed him?”

Although he’s had Snowman for about three years, Johnson said if a new ordinance were to go into effect — creating hefty fines or penalties for 24/7 tethering — he would have to part ways with the dog.

Johnson said he has always leashed his dogs and Snowman doesn’t suffer any ill effects from tethering.

However, Norman said tethered dogs often cope with anxiety and pent-up energy by becoming extremely territorial of the small space in which they are confined, making tethering a public safety issue as well as a cruelty one.

Norman talked about an incident in 2010 when 3-year-old Violet Haaker was killed by her family’s tethered pit bull. Her mother had gone inside and the girl got tangled up in the dog’s chain.

“The dog can only do one of two things,” Norman said. “He can either fight, or he can flee. Well, when he’s on the end of the chain, he can’t flee.”

Fatal dog bites are rare, between 20 and 30 per year in the United States, Norman said. More than 70 percent of the deaths are children because they can’t read the signs of an aggressive dog.

Kerry Crawford, chairman of the task force, said it was important to have the recommendation be feasibly enforceable since tethering offenses are complaint driven. However, he said they didn’t want to force people to spend money with their final recommendation by requiring fences or something similar.

“You don’t want to create a situation where you’re causing a responsible dog owner to suffer because of irresponsible dog owners,” he said.

Norman, who originally brought the issue to the county commission in 2010, said the humane society had a lot of support for banning tethering, garnering 1,800 signatures on a petition in October and receiving almost 2,000 support letters and emails.

After the meeting on Feb. 4, Norman expects the issue to move to a public hearing where it will be one step closer to becoming an ordinance. She said she trusts the county commission because there are no partisan politics that can interfere with animal care.

“Dogs don’t have any political affiliation,” Norman said. “They’re not Republican, and they’re not Democrat. It’s just the right thing to do.”

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