Hillsborough County commissioners need to make a stand this week for the humane treatment of dogs and public health. The commission on Wednesday will consider a tethering ban that would outlaw the practice of tying up dogs and leaving them alone outdoors. They should adopt it, or signal a strong intent to do so soon. Anything less will allow irresponsible pet owners to continue their cruelty.
Under the proposed ordinance — similar to those in Pinellas County and across the country — owners would be forbidden from tying an unattended dog to any tree, post or other structure, with reasonable exceptions. Dogs could be tethered if they were supervised. The law would not apply to leashing a dog or securing them for transport or grooming. The ordinance would also include at least a six-month grace period, to April 2012, so the county could educate pet owners on the changes.
Tethered dogs are a danger not only to themselves but to the community. Dogs that are tethered and left alone can become entangled in a rope or chain, strangling themselves or losing a leg. Chained dogs are sitting prey for other animals. Confined to small areas, they are prone to sickness from insect bites and exposure to feces. Dogs that are chained and unable to flee also feel forced to fight to defend their territory. All these conditions contribute toward making a dog more aggressive, both with other animals and the public.
Commissioners have dawdled on the ordinance out of unfounded fears of unintended consequences. Owners could still secure their dog outside, for example, while they pop inside a Starbucks for coffee under the proposal. But what they couldn't do is make it a matter of routine to chain a dog outside, unattended, in all hours and all kinds of weather, without clean water or shelter, to survive whatever comes its way.
Commissioners also need to avoid watering down the ordinance with outrageous what-if's. The board should drop a loophole that allows dogs to be tethered for a 30-minute period every eight hours. When would the clock start — at the time code enforcement or animal control officers come to the house? This is bureaucratic thumb-sucking at its worst. Any reasonable person could tell the difference between a dog that was secured outside temporarily and one that toils in the beaten dirt. Hillsborough's animal services department is one of the best-run agencies in the county. Its staff certainly has the judgment to enforce the law without creating complications.
Dog owners have no greater responsibility than to ensure their pet is safe and secure. They also have an obligation not to endanger other pets or public health. Hillsborough should join other communities, the Humane Society and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in recognizing that tethering is an abusive and outdated control method that is no longer acceptable.