Hillsborough County commissioners should stand for animal welfare and public safety this week by adopting a ban on the tethering of dogs. The practice is inhumane, and it poses a danger to animals and people alike.
Commissioners will consider an ordinance Thursday that would ban tethering but with some reasonable exceptions. Dogs could still be tethered in a number of circumstances, such as if they were being closely supervised or transported or cared for by a veterinarian or groomer. These are commonsense exemptions that do not undermine the intent of the law, which is to crack down on pet owners who tie up their dogs and leave them unattended at all hours and in all kinds of weather.
Pinellas County and scores of other communities across the country ban tethering because it is an outdated and cruel method for controlling dogs. Animals that are tethered can strangle themselves on ropes or chains, sever a limb or permanently injure themselves any number of ways. Lacking the ability to move freely, chained dogs are sitting prey for parasites and animals. Being constrained at all times and typically confined to a small area also makes these dogs more aggressive. Small children and passers-by are especially at risk, particularly if a tethered dog gets loose and manages to escape.
Predictably, the issue has inflamed emotions on all sides. Some animal rights activists complain that the ordinance does not go far enough, while critics argue the county has no business telling residents how to care for their pets. But this ban strikes the right balance. It puts the focus on the worst abusers by outlawing tethering that clearly is used as a containment method by neglectful owners. It enables dog owners to continue enjoying the company of a pet in public. And it will help remove a health hazard by curbing the cycle of cruelty and abuse. The law also provides a grace period to mid August before enforcement kicks in so the county can conduct an education campaign.
The debate over tethering has dragged on for nearly two years, and it's time commissioners put an ordinance in place. The county's animal control department has had enormous success in the last few years in curbing abuse and dealing with the fallout from unwanted pets, and this law would give the agency another tool in that worthy public effort.