Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Texas Senate Bill would make it unlawful to restrain dogs outside except in pens, fenced yards

By Vince Leibowitz of Capitol Annex

A bill by State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) would make it unlawful to restrain a dog outside unless the dog was in a pen or under certain other limited circumstances.

The bill, SB 634, would amend a section of the Texas Health and Safety Code enacted last year as a result of House Bill 1411 which limited the hours a dog could be restrained outside.

The bill enacted last year allowed dog owners to restrain dogs outside using a chain, tether, cable, or trolly system if the restraint didn’t unreasonably limit the dog’s movement, and it was not:

(1) between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.;

(2) within 500 feet of the premises of a school; or

(3) in the case of extreme weather conditions, including conditions in which:

(A) the actual or effective outdoor temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit;

(B) a heat advisory has been issued by a local or state authority or jurisdiction; or

(C) a hurricane, tropical storm, or tornado warning has been issued for the jurisdiction by the National Weather Service.

Under Seliger’s bill, a dog left outside would have to be in a fenced enclosure of not less than 150 square feet for each dog over six months old, and tethering or chaining a dog wouldn’t be allowed except in limited training or agricultural circumstances.

Needless to say, Seliger’s bill takes a good law that was passed last session and makes it ten times worse. Prohibiting a dog from being restrained at any time isn’t beneficial to dog owners and isn’t beneficial to dogs. It is, however, part of a nationwide “anti-tethering” move sweeping cities and states that is aimed at specific breeds but instead hurts all dogs and dog owners. For some reason, people have it in their heads that tethering a dog at all will make it mean or put the dog in harm’s way.

For one thing, tethering is often as much for a dog’s protection and safety as it is for anything else. For example, if someone is at work all day, keeping their dog safely chained in the shade with a dog house, food and water (so long as it isn’t too hot or cold) is much safer for the dog than running the risk that it will jump a fence and get lost or injured (believe it or not, most dogs can jump a standard chain link fence, and many dogs can even jump wooden privacy fences; most municipalities don’t allow fences to be built tall enough to adequately secure some dogs, and “electrical” fencing options are either illegal in many municipalities, won’t stop a dog with a large body weight, or are actually more cruel than tethering). Too, it protects the dog from people who may actually seek to do the animal harm by harassing it over or through a fence.

Bills like Seliger’s are legislators’ and the animal rights community’s attempt to rectify the bad behavior of a few dog owners by punishing all dog owners. Because a lot of breed-specific legislation geared to address pit bulls has been declared unconstitutional (a lot of cases are still in the appeals pipelines) on its way up the judicial ladder, instead of targeting dog owners who actually abuse or neglect their dogs, bills like Seliger’s deprive loving, caring dog owners of their right to protect their dogs.

As the proud “parent” of three dogs, I can tell you that when my dogs are outside, even when I am outside if I’m doing yard work or something like that, they are tethered for their own safety and protection. Unless it is very hot or very cold, the dogs are tethered when I’m at work unless someone is home to watch them. Even though I have a large fenced yard, I do this so they don’t get lost, stolen, or hit by a car. Why? Here is an example of why:

One of my dogs loves pretty much everyone and has never met a stranger. If a stranger came up to the fence, she’d jump up and that person could reach right over and pick her up without any problem because she’s not afraid of people. We live in an area that has a lot of puppy mills and is near the infamous First Monday Trade Days in Canton where dogs are sold in the deplorable conditions of “Dog Alley.” Every month, around the first of the month, you see an influx of posters at Wal-Mart and the grocery store of people posting rewards for their newly missing dogs in parts of five counties. Why? Because people steal the dogs to resell at what is billed at the world’s largest flea market. It happens, and every few years a ring of dog thieves that has been operating in several counties–stealing unrestrained dogs right out of their yards–and reselling at First Monday is discovered and caught.We also live on a dead end road with only a few homes where hardly anyone is home during the day, meaning it is a great place to target to steal dogs. And, a locked gate doesn’t help if your dog has never met a stranger and can jump even a wooden privacy fence in a single bound.

I personally don’t want my dog falling victim to that. So, when she is outside, she is restrained so she can’t jump the fence (all of my dogs are high jumpers, and the size fence that would be needed to keep them from jumping it isn’t allowed under any city’s code of ordinances I’ve ever seen).

Another reason that allowing dogs to be tethered at least some of the time is that it protects them from unnecessary injury or death. Even the most well-trained of dogs will be tempted to jump a fence by a stray cat, a squirrel, or another neighborhood dog. Once the dog jumps the fence, it could be hit by a car and killed or injured by another animal. Allowing dog owners to protect their dogs by tethering them prevents this, and keeps the dogs safe.

This bill is allegedly aimed at making the quality of life for dogs better. And, perhaps, for abused dogs, it might make life better (although a dog abuser isn’t likely to follow the law anyway). For my dogs, it won’t. It would mean they’d have to spend more time in the garage–like they do in extreme heat or cold when I’m at work–at a “doggie daycare,” something they do not like; or in individual all-sided pens that can be locked and situated where the dogs can’t be stolen (again, something they don’t like, and leaving dogs loose in the yard isn’t an option due to the possibility of theft or injury if they get out, even with a locked gate).

If this bill passes, I will be very unhappy. What’s worse is that my dogs will be unhappy.

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