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Law may take pity on chained pooches

County mulls ordinance banning cruel tethering

If the Humane Society has its way, it could soon be against the law in unincorporated Salt Lake County to chain up a dog for more than eight hours, or for any time under extreme weather conditions.

The Humane Society of Utah announced Monday it is going to ask for such an ordinance in portions of Salt Lake County.

"This law would provide exemptions under appropriate circumstances," HSU Executive Director Gene Baierschmidt, said. "For example, if the dog's tether is attached to a running line, or during training activity, shepherding or herding of livestock, or conduct related to the business of carrying out agricultural projects."

If it's passed, punishment for violation of this ordinance would be anything from issuing a warning citation on the first offense up to charging the dog owner with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of as much as $1,000 for repeated offenses.

Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi said several council members are interested in considering such an ordinance.

"We ought to have some serious public discussion about it," he said, explaining he's heard some horror stories over the inhumane treatment of some dogs being chained up for long periods, especially in hot weather.

Horiuchi believes such an ordinance could improve the treatment of canines and even save the lives of some dogs.

If such a new ordinance is approved, he said, it will take about six months to go through the public process and actually become law.

"It will bring about awareness on the issue," he said, noting that some other area municipalities have told him they might consider such an ordinance too, if S.L. County approves it first.

More than 100 jurisdictions in 30 states have already passed anti-tethering ordinances, from places as small as Live Oak, Texas, to Los Angeles.

"It's up to the public to improve the lives of chained dogs," Baierschmidt said. "Some people may think that it's none of their business, but it's the business of compassionate people to speak up when they see living creatures being treated like objects."

He said chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite, and 5.4 times more likely to bite children, than are dogs who live indoors as part of the family.

Chained dogs are also at risk of getting hurt. Aside from the psychological damage caused by chaining, they are vulnerable to other dangers like inability to escape attacks from people or other animals or strangulation from getting the tether tangled or caught, according to the Humane Society.

Dogs are pack animals, Baierschmidt said, which means that they naturally crave companionship. Chained dogs live an existence that is contrary to their instinct, he said. The lack of socialization is a large part of what makes chained dogs more dangerous, Baierschmidt believes.

"Imagine being chained to a tree year after year," Baierschmidt said. "You watch the door, hoping someone will come play. No one ever does. You long to run, but you can only pace. You shiver in the winter, you pant in the summer. Eventually you stop barking. You have given up hope. People have friends, company, music, movies, entertainment. A dog has only you."

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com