ASHE COUNTY-If you see someone chained to a doghouse in downtown West Jefferson sometime in the near future, don’t worry. That’s right where they want to be.
That news comes from Lisa DeLaurentiis, a local animal rights advocate who is organizing the doghouse display as a protest. She hopes the Feb. 6, event will draw attention to the plight of dogs who spend much of their lives tethered to a tiny patch of ground.
“The statement we want to make is that it’s not acceptable for most dogs to be out in this weather,” DeLaurentiis said. “Even the sled racers in the arctic will tell you that there is a point their dogs need to be brought inside. And tying an animal to a tree, which restricts it from moving around, is even more cruel.”
Anxious and neurotic
Cathy Allinder, volunteer district leader with the Humane Society of the United States, said dogs simply aren’t built to spend their days confined to a small area.
She said dogs, like humans, are social creatures who crave interaction with people and other animals. Allinder warned that long-term restraint can damage dogs both physically and psychologically.
“Even a naturally friendly dog, if you keep it tied up all the time will become neurotic and anxious and many times aggressive,” Allinder said.
The Humane Society of the United States said dogs that are tethered over the long term generally develop a host of physical ailments. Raw, sore necks are common when dogs continuously pull against their tether, the organisation said, and confined canines are also vulnerable insects and parasites and attacks by other dogs.
“Tethered dogs may also suffer from irregular feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care and extreme temperatures,” according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Allinder said many states have passed laws in recent years to crackdown on pet owners who neglect their furry friends by leaving them continuously tethered. North Carolina, however, has no specific anti-tether statute on its books.
That leaves Ashe County with the power to create its own ordinance to address the problem, Allinder said.
Good enough for now
Some local officials, however, said they believe the county’s current animal protection ordinances already give Ashe County Animal Control Director Joe Testerman enough authority to charge negligent pet owners with animal cruelty in true emergency situations.
In December, for instance, he charged two West Jefferson dog owners with a felony after a dog was discovered on their property by Ashe County Sheriff’s Office detectives.
That pup’s collar had grown into its skin, Testerman said, leaving the dog with an infected wound around its entire neck.
“In this particular case I was able to charge the owners under existing ordinances,” Testerman said. “Didn’t need anything more than we already have.”
Testerman said he believes current Ashe County animal control ordinances are overdue for an update, but said he doesn’t see any pressing reason to create a new anti-tethering ordinance.
That’s an opinion shared by Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick.
“Are there irresponsible pet owners out there that need to be held accountable for abusing their pets,” Yearick said. “Yes, absolutely, but until there is enough public support to address this tethering issue I don’t really see a need to change what’s already on the books.”
And while Yearick said to date he’s heard no real public outcry to address the tethering issue, DeLaurentiis has already shown herself capable of mobilizing a vocal grassroots army of animal advocates. That’s a power she might be able to harness to convince the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to act on her concerns.
Last weekend, during the season’s first major snowstorm, DeLaurentiis posted a video on Facebook of a Ridgecrest Drive husky confined to a chain link fence cage. She said the video appeared to show the dog out in the cold and in distress.
That information was passed on to Testerman and Ashe County Animal Control through the county’s 911 dispatch center, but animal control took no immediate action on the report, according to Testerman.
“Our standard operating procedure dictates how we’re supposed to handle those kinds of situations,” Testerman said. “If a call or a lead comes in to dispatch, they’ll notify us, even if it’s after hours. If it’s an emergency, it’s our responsibility to take the call. If it’s not – and the information we were provided was that neither the dog or anybody else was in immediate danger – then we wait until the next business day to check things out.”
But soon after the video was posted online, Ashe County Sheriff James Williams said his office’s 911 communications office was flooded with calls about the dog from as far away as California, New York and Florida.
“Here it is one of the nastiest days of the year and we’ve got dispatchers trying to direct medics all over the place and they’re being overwhelmed by rude callers from all over about this dog,” Williams said. “So a West Jefferson officer went to check on the dog. Turns out it’s an indoor dog that they placed in a kennel in the backyard and it wanted out to go play with the family in the front yard.”
When she found out the dog was alright – and following a call from Williams – DeLaurentiis said she removed the video from Facebook and asked other animal advocates to cease calling local dispatchers.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting the video to generate that kind of response,” DeLaurentiis said. “But I personally feel in situations like this it’s best to play it safe and notify somebody if you think you see a problem.”
DeLaurentiis said she hopes the upcoming protest elicits the same kind of emotional outpouring. That could influence commissioners to consider updating their ordinances, she said.
“That’s all we’re asking,” DeLaurentiis said. “Simply for them to take a look at the situation and then do the right thing.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.