IN SUPPORT OF L.D. 204 “An Act to Protect Dogs That Are Left Outside”

President and Director of Maine Friends of Animals
IN SUPPORT OF L.D. 204 “An Act to Protect Dogs That Are Left Outside”

April 27, 2005

Good afternoon Senator Nutting, Representative Piotti and distinguished members of the committee. I am Robert Fisk, Jr., president and director of Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA), which is the state’s largest animal advocate group. We promote the humane treatment of animals through education, advocacy and legislation.

In the eight years as director of MFOA one of the most frequent requests I get from our members is doing something about what we call “dogs chained for life.” Time and again we get calls about dogs continuously being left outside in inhumane conditions. In our view it is arguably the most pervasive form of animal cruelty that we presently have in the state, especially given Maine winters.

These are canines of all breeds that are tethered outside day after day, night after night, week after week, month after month. Rarely do these chained or tethered dogs receive sufficient care. They suffer from sporadic feedings, overturned water bowls, frozen water bowls, inadequate shelter, inadequate veterinary care if any, and extremes in weather and temperature. The dogs have to eat, sleep, urinate and defecate in a single confined area. They beat down the grass and therefore their ground often consists of nothing but dirt or mud. In many cases, the necks of chained dogs become raw and covered with sores, the result of improperly fitted collars and the dogs constant yanking and straining to escape confinement. One case in Maine two years ago a dog did not have its collar replaced from being a puppy and the collar had become embedded in the dogs neck.  

This miserable existence is only half the story about the abuse these animals suffer. Dogs are pack animals. Since the pack of long ago is gone, we humans have become their pack. When we isolate these animals they suffer immeasurably mentally. Our companion animal friend who craves our attention is left alone without even minimal social time with humans. Due to the bad smells coming from a dog that has never been bathed, chained dogs are further reduced from receiving even minimal affection. There is no sadder sight than these outcast, forlorn, forgotten animals, relegated to the status of lawn ornaments and virtually ignored by the family.

In addition to the psychological damage wrought by continuous chaining, dogs forced to live on a chain make easy targets for other animals, humans and biting insects. A chained animal may also suffer harassment and teasing from insensitive humans.

It was not to long ago in which a dog in Maine died from exposure in a case where the dog froze to death and was lying in the snow on its own blood from trying to free itself. Every year dogs are found frozen to death or left with sever malnutrition. This is aggravated animal cruelty. That is why it is imperative that we educate and legislate that this is unacceptable behavior and that dog owners must take more responsibility for their animal, and if not, they can and will be charged with animal cruelty.  There are many, many other dogs in Maine that may not die, but their existence creates an animal half dead in body and in spirit. Most individuals would never think to treat their dog in such a way, but it happens far more then people realize; and it is not just in the northern rural areas; we have seen cases of this senseless neglect and suffering in every part of the state.

The story still doesn’t end there. The longer the animal is left in these conditions the worst it gets for all involved. An otherwise friendly and docile dog becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious and often aggressive. Dogs tethered for long periods can become highly aggressive. Dogs feel naturally protective of their only territory; when confronted with a perceived threat, they respond according to their fight-or-flight instinct. A chained dog, unable to take flight, often feels forced to fight, attacking any unfamiliar animal or person who unwittingly wanders into his or her territory.  An unsocialized dog can and will lash out at humans, especially children. In 2004, chained dogs attacked and killed or seriously injured at least 21 children in this country.

As I first mentioned, dogs chained for life is arguably the most pervasive form of animal cruelty we have in this state. That is why we feel a bill like L.D. 204 should be taken as just a first step in correcting the situation.  L.D. 204 amends the type of shelter that must be available for a dog to protect it from inclement weather, and establishes requirements for the type of device that confines the animal, if it is to be confined unattended outdoors.

I have attached page 112 from the State Animal Welfare Laws on “Outside Facilities for Dog House; Tethering of Animals” for dog kennels. The language for this bill was taken directly from this portion of the existing Animal Welfare Laws. Thus it is not over-reaching legislation. If it is in law that these conditions are required for kennel dogs, then there is no reason it cannot be seriously considered for all dogs, especially given that something needs to be done to at least improve the miserable conditions these dogs must live in. Is your Fido any less deserving of humane conditions than a kennel dog?

Frankly, we wanted a provision in this legislation that any dog continuously left outside be required to be taken off its tether for at least one hour each day. Our good sponsor felt it was too controversial at this point. Having been a legislator myself I recognized that Rep. Koffman’s pragmatic approach was prudent.

As you consider this legislation remember what life is for these poor dogs. As the days become years, they sit, eat and defecate in the same 10 foot radius. Chained by the neck, they exist without respect, love, exercise, social interaction and even basic nourishment. They live as prisoners, yet long to be pets.

Maine Friends of Animals is making this a focal issue for our organization in the next few years. This legislation kicks-off a two year campaign to increase education, advocacy and legislation to address this needless animal suffering and the plight of these abused and neglected animals we call our best friend. We feel L.D. 204 is a step in the right direction, especially in signaling that it is a problem, and in fact a problem that should have been addressed a long time ago. Every animal lover in this state urges you to vote ‘out-to-pass’ on L.D. 204. I appreciate your listening to my testimony and I would be happy to try and answer any questions you may have.  


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