Seminole City Council members were determined to liberate dogs from what they considered pooch purgatory — being tied up day and night — so they approved a new ordinance that forbids tethering of dogs unless their owners are present. But the council members didn't stop there. They are urging the Pinellas County Commission and other Pinellas cities to pass anti-tethering ordinances as well. This is not a new idea; cities, counties and even states now have laws to limit canine tethering. It is time for Pinellas local governments to put an end to this inhumane practice.
Just days ago, St. Petersburg Times readers learned about the painful result of tethering for a Pasco County dog named Honey. The 1-year-old dog apparently had lived at the end of a rope since she was a puppy, and as she grew, the rope cut through fur and flesh and became embedded in her neck. Honey was found wandering, with an infected neck and massively swollen face. After surgery to remove the rope, she is recovering at the Humane Society of Pinellas County.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and numerous animal welfare groups oppose canine tethering. The Humane Society of the United States calls tethering "inhumane and a threat to the safety of the confined dog, other animals and humans." Dogs that spend their lives tied up or chained outdoors are exposed to heat and cold, sickness, loneliness, insufficient food and water, and attacks by people and other animals. According to the Humane Society, dogs that are continuously tethered often become antisocial and aggressive and may attack people who approach them.
Seminole City Council member Dan Hester, a former board member of the SPCA of Tampa Bay, brought up the idea of a city anti-tethering ordinance. Hester said that he regularly passes some houses where dogs are tied outside around the clock.
The ordinance Seminole now has on the books makes tying a dog to any object or structure outdoors illegal unless the person responsible for the animal is outside with it and within eyesight.
If that condition is met, the dog can be tethered, but only if the tether is at least five times the length of the dog and attached to the dog with a buckle-type collar or body harness; if the weather is not extreme; if the dog has access to water, shelter and dry ground; if the dog is tethered in a way that is safe and separately from any other dog; and if the dog is not sick. Puppies under 6 months old may not be tethered under any circumstances. If the owner attaches the tether to a running line, the line must be at least 15 feet long and less than 7 feet above the ground.
For a first offense, the responsible party gets only a warning. After that, the penalty increases for each violation, up to the fourth offense, which brings a $500 fine and a charge of animal cruelty.
Last summer the Tarpon Springs City Commission approved an ordinance that is less stringent than Seminole's, but does recognize that long periods of tethering are inhumane. The ordinance allows canines to be tethered outdoors for only one hour at a time, with no more than three periods of tethering in any 24-hour period, but not in extreme weather.
Many cities and counties and at least nine states now have laws that restrict the amount of time a dog may be tethered or ban tethering entirely. The laws recognize that keeping a dog, a naturally social and curious animal, bound to a tether outdoors is cruel and can lead to injury and death. County and city governments in Pinellas should follow the lead of Seminole and Tarpon Springs.