By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

New year rings in new laws

New year, new laws. And my goodness, but didn’t our state Legislature (in contrast to our federal one) stay busy passing laws in 2013?

I am long past the age of worrying about whether I am tan, let alone needing my parents’ permission to go to a tanning parlor. Likewise, praise God, I am smart enough to know that texting while driving is a very bad idea without needing a law to tell me so. But HB 2783B got my attention and makes me proud to say I live in Oregon.

HB 2783 outlaws abusively chaining or tethering of a dog. It was lobbied for by an impressive number of organizations, including the Oregon Humane Society, the Humane Society of the United States, Oregon Animal Control Council, Fences for Fido, Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, Banfield Pet Hospital, and Washington County and Multnomah County animal services. When that many animal loving organizations line up behind one piece of legislation, it must be a pretty good law.

There is really no defense for chaining a dog for long periods of time. The dog suffers and the neighborhood suffers as well. Chained dogs are bored dogs; bored dogs almost inevitably become nuisance barkers. But a much more serious effect of chaining a dog is aggressiveness.

Dogs who spend too much time at the end of a chain become very territorial and feel that anyone — a neighbor’s cat, another dog, a child — who ventures into their limited space is a threat that should be dealt with aggressively and violently. Also, the natural isolation that comes with chaining any creature can create a fearful dog, one that will bite readily without apparent cause.

Equally grim are the odds that a chained dog won’t be able to defend itself from other dogs or wild predators, cruel children or those who might steal them to sell to laboratories or for other nefarious purposes. And finally, research shows that chained dogs are much more likely to be neglected in myriad ways—left without shelter in all kinds of weather, without water or food, forced to defecate in the same small area they are confined to, receiving inadequate veterinary care. And that’s not to mention the frequent and serious injuries caused by the chain and collar themselves.

So chaining a dog has never been a good idea. As we are, at least in some ways, evolving into a more humane society, we have happily figured that out and are acting to prevent it— or at least most of it. I looked up the actual piece of legislation and to me it seems like it could be a bit more protective of the dog’s welfare. According to the law, it is still legal to chain a dog 10 hours out of every 24, or 15 of 24 if the tether is attached to a running line. Both seem excessive to me. Also, dogs chained because they are sled dogs or used to hunt or herd or guard livestock, are out of luck. Their owners are exempt from the law, which makes no sense to me, but so many things don’t these days.

But a law that a protects a dog from being chained all day, every day, is a whole lot better than no law at all. The law also defines what adequate bedding and shelter mean, which happily does not include the crawlspace under a building or the underside of a car. Fines for violating the law range from $50 to $1,000.

I realize that, for reasons I can’t explain but am very grateful for nonetheless, I have been fortunate enough to own my home, which has a fenced-in yard. It could be easy from this lofty perch to condemn people who chain their dogs. But it is never that simple, is it?

I know that life has not been as kind to many people, and some folks who love their dogs every bit as much as I love mine may be living in rentals where there are no fenced-in areas, or own homes but can’t afford to fence in the yard for Poochie. They have my sympathy, but it is still a bad and harmful idea to keep a dog on a chain, even if not doing so is a huge inconvenience. But I don’t believe the problem is insurmountable. Many dogs — especially adult dogs — can get by with a couple of 15 minute walks a day, plus a few trips on a leash to the outdoors for potty purposes.

They don’t need to spend hours outside; in fact, as a rule, dogs are more calm, content and enjoyable if you keep them inside with you. If your particular pooch is the kind intent on chewing up everything you own —and many dogs do find that amusing from time to time — you may have to confine them when you can’t supervise. But crates and indoor pens were invented with such dogs in mind, and they are both affordable, especially used ones.

I should mention that an organization called Fences for Fido is all about helping people who love their dogs unchain them. Although the group is based in Portland, they do not confine their fence building to the metro area. If you and your pooch would love to have a fenced-in yard but can’t afford to build one yourself, it would be worth contacting them to see if you qualify for their waiting list.

While I have your attention, my veterinarian, who had just finished patching up a seriously injured dog who jumped out of the bed of a moving pickup truck, asked me to discuss related laws and safety considerations.

We can assume that most dogs love riding freely in the back of a pickup because they look like they are having so darn much fun — tails wagging, ears blowing back in the wind. Nevertheless, it is a really bad idea. Dogs jump or fall out, and can sustain serious injuries.

The law requires that the dog be contained in a crate in the bed or be tethered so as not to be able to jump or fall out. This last part is what the vet wanted me to mention. The dog she was trying rot patch up had been tethered, but unfortunately still managed to jump out and was subsequently dragged for many feet until the owner stopped the truck. So the law is good, but common sense is better. Let your dog ride in the cab with you.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and law-abiding New Year for us and our pets.

Nancy Carlson can be reached at

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