Pa. measure would limit dog tethering
The House bill would ban tying up dogs overnight, except on farms.
By Amy Worden
Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG - When the Pennsylvania SPCA picked up the 4-year-old chow chow last month, he had collapsed from starvation and dehydration on a Philadelphia street. A rope collar, embedded in his neck, had sliced deep wounds that were infested with maggots.
"This was a case of long-term tethering," said Howard Nelson, executive director of the PSPCA, which is caring for the stray dog, now named Mulan. "Another few weeks and the rope would have pierced his esophagus, and he would have died."
Nelson and other animal-welfare advocates say passage of a pending bill banning 24/7 dog chaining statewide would prevent dogs from suffering a similar fate.
House Bill 1065, voted out of the Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming majority yesterday, is among a growing number of anti-tethering bills approved or under consideration in 19 states.
The Pennsylvania bill would forbid chaining between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Violators could be cited for cruelty and, upon conviction, their dog could be seized. Tethering during the day and early evening would be allowed if shelter and food and clean water were provided. In a compromise with the powerful farm lobby, farmers would be exempt.
"It's been a long fight on a big issue," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mario M. Scavello (R., Monroe), who shared with the committee a story of a dog tied outside who froze to death in a snowstorm in his Pocono district two years ago.
Opponents said they were concerned that the law was overly restrictive.
"I'm concerned about the bill's unintended consequences," said Rep. Beverly Mackereth (R., York), one of four committee members who voted against the legislation. "You could lose your dog if you left him out for 15 minutes."
Scavello said the bill was not intended to seize dogs of responsible owners, but to protect dogs whose lives are threatened.
The American Kennel Club, which has opposed tethering bills elsewhere, has not taken a position on the Pennsylvania bill.
"Of course we are against inhumane tethering, but why do we need overly specific legislation?" asked Daisy Okas, the club's communications director. "We support enforcement of existing animal-cruelty laws."
Animal-welfare advocates say legislation dealing with round-the-clock tethering is needed because chained dogs are very often neglected, create a community nuisance with their barking, and can become dangerously aggressive.
Since 2003, at least 23 children nationwide have been killed and at least 170 injured when they were attacked by chained dogs, according to the Altoona-based anti-chaining advocacy group, Dogs Deserve Better.
"A large percentage of cruelty cases we see involve some form of tethering," Nelson said.
Fourteen states, including New Jersey, have considered tethering bills this year, compared with five last year. Of the 14, California, Maryland, Texas and Tennessee have passed them.
Anti-tethering ordinances approved by municipalities have also increased, though apparently none exist in Pennsylvania, according to the Humane Society of the United States, which has lobbied for the Pennsylvania bill.
Scavello said he was confident that the show of support in the committee meant the bill's chances of passage in the House were good.
Tom Andrews, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), wrote in an e-mail that DeWeese would "vet (no pun intended)" the bill in the next several weeks.
For now, Mulan, his thick coat shaved, is recovering in the PSPCA's veterinary hospital. "He's very sweet," Nelson said. "A few more weeks and he'll be ready for adoption."