It's a dismal existence for an outside dog that spends its life on a chain, Melissa Smith said. And proposed legislation to restrict dog-tethering has, year after year, failed to gain traction in Pennsylvania's legislature.
Smith, executive director of the York County SPCA, can no longer wait for the state to take action. More importantly, she said, dogs can't wait.
"About six months ago, I really started thinking about it," she said. "Waiting for something to happen on the state level was no longer an option."
Late last week, the SPCA mailed out packets to every municipality in York County, asking officials to pass ordinances banning the tethering of outside dogs. Included in each mailing was sample language municipalities can use as a template in designing ordinances that best fit their areas, she said.
"Regardless of how long this battle takes, it will be well worth it for the dogs," she said. "At least I will have tried."
Outside dogs only: The SPCA's proposed anti-tethering ordinance would affect only dogs that permanently live outside.
"This is not targeting the person who tethers their dog outside for a couple hours," Smith said.
Dogs tethered for prolonged periods of time are twice as likely to bite as non-tethered dogs, posing safety hazards for children and adults, she said.
"It's completely unnatural for a dog to be living that way and causes a lot of psychological problems, including fear aggression," Smith said. "Tethered outside dogs do not have a good, humane life."
The language also includes restrictions on keeping dogs outside in severe weather.
"If there is a weather advisory, like a heat advisory or a blizzard, dogs must be taken in regardless of whether they are in a kennel," Smith said.
A first? If York County's municipalities pass the SPCA's proposed ordinance they likely would be the first in Pennsylvania to address tethering, said Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania director of the Humane Society of the United States. Speed worked with the SPCA to help craft the language.
"The Pennsylvania animal-cruelty statute is simply inadequate to address the issue," Speed said. "It's appalling that it's taken so long for the state legislature to address the plight of tethered dogs."
Over the years state legislators have introduced bills to restrict tethering, according to Speed, but those bills so far haven't made it out of committee. The latest is being championed by state Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Franklin County, Speed said.
"I absolutely think it's doable," she said of Smith's initiative.
And because there are organizations in Pennsylvania that will build fences for tethered dogs at no cost, "there's really no good reason why a dog needs to be tethered to be an outdoor dog," Speed said.
Public involvement: Both Smith and Speed believe the initiative's success could depend on the citizens of York County.
"We're going to need the community's support and backing, so municipal officials realize this is something important to their (constituents)," Smith said. "I am extremely hopeful. ... Knowing how passionate York Countians are about their animals, I really thought this was something they would understand and support."
Smith said her agency receives complaints every week about tethered dogs, and those numbers increase in bad weather. Callers become very frustrated when they learn state law allows continuous tethering as long as dogs have access to fresh water, a structure that provides some protection from weather and a tether at least three times the length of the dog, she said.
Some outside dogs without proper shelter don't make it through harsh winters, according to Smith.
"When you go to bed at night and you can hear the wind howling outside your window, remember the outside dogs. They deserve more," she said. "The same can be said for dogs who are outside during sweltering summer temperatures."
Thirteen states either ban or restrict tethering of dogs, according to the Animal Law Coalition.
No extra costs: If adopted, the ordinances would be enforced by the SPCA's humane police officer, meaning no enforcement costs for police or municipal officials, Smith said.
Those in violation would receive a warning, and later could be cited and fined. But Smith stressed each municipality can revised the proposed ordinance as its officials see fit.
Kelly Kelch, West Manchester Township's manager, said his township does get complaints about barking dogs.
Complaints: "When you go out, you find the dog is tethered, which is why it continually barks," he said.
Passing an ordinance could stop barking problems, decrease the risk of dog bites and make life better for dogs, Kelch reasoned, and the fact that it would not cost the township any money to enforce also makes it attractive.
"I think it's worth consideration from the board," he said. "It seems like it would be a good benefit for both the residents and the animals."
Revisions possible: Some township officials might be concerned about the section that requires dogs in kennels to be brought inside during inclement weather, Kelch said, so the option to tweak the ordinance is a good thing.
Kelch said the issue is on the agenda for consideration at the supervisors' Feb. 23 meeting.
Other municipal officials said their boards will at least consider the request, including Don Bishop, vice-chairman of Springettsbury Township's supervisors, and Madelyn Shermeyer, chairwoman of Dover Township's board of supervisors.
"I always start from a position that there be less ordinances and regulations," Bishop said. "But the longer I'm in this business the more I start to understand that ... people need to be told what the standards are."
-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.