Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors.” But good fences can also make for happier dogs and owners.
That’s part of the mission of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, which built fences for 61 Charlotte dogs last year and recently passed 200 total fences in the area since they started. The all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit – which builds fences and spays/neuters dogs free of charge while maintaining relationships with dog owners after the fences are up – has a related goal: a law that makes the chaining of dogs illegal in Charlotte.
Thanks to a lobbying effort by the coalition’s Charlotte chapter, Charlotte tightened its regulations on the tethering of dogs with a law that went into effect on March 1, 2011. It restricted the kinds of collars that can be used to tether and the length of chains, along with requirements for access to food and water.
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“The ordinance is a step in the right direction – but doesn’t go far enough, unfortunately,” says Neya Warren, Charlotte chapter co-director. “The permanent chaining of a dog creates a host of public safety issues, as well as significant risks to the health and safety of the dog.”
Among them, she says that chained dogs have no barrier to protect them from theft or from an attack by wild or stray animals; they often suffer injuries that include tracheal damage, embedded collars or injured limbs from being tangled in their chains; female dogs are more susceptible to unintentional breeding, leading to overpopulation; and chained dogs are often without food and water because their chains knock over their bowls.
But it’s not just about dog safety, Warren says. Chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs, according to a 1994 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When children younger than 12 are involved, that rate increases to 5.4 times more likely.
“Having a dog behind a secure enclosure dramatically reduces the chance of a child coming into contact with an aggressive dog,” she says.
“There’s just no ‘right’ way to chain a dog. The coalition supports a law prohibiting chaining, with a limited exception for attended tethering – such as when an adult is in the presence of the dog while tethered.”
Warren says the coalition hopes to go back before the City Council in the spring with the no-chaining effort. That would be the latest impact for the organization that was formed in Durham in 2007. It added a Charlotte chapter in 2009 and also has N.C. chapters in Raleigh and Orange County, as well as one in Atlanta.
Paul Stayert of Charlotte, one of 650 members of the Charlotte chapter, likes how the organization is passionate and organized.
“The spay/neuter trips typically happen early on weekdays, setting posts for the fences on Saturdays, then building the fence on Sundays,” he says. “Then there are the various other activities such as fence repairs – some of our furry friends are pretty strong and active – spreading hay to help in coping with the cold season, erecting or repairing tarps that serve as shade during hot months, and various health-related checkups.”
Warren says spaying and neutering are a vital part of what the coalition does, to the point where the organization will provide the free service even for dogs not needing a fence.
“This is the best way to reduce the number of animals euthanized at Char-Meck Animal Care & Control,” she says, adding that the coalition spayed and neutered 251 dogs in Charlotte last year.
“We require that dogs are spayed/neutered before we build the fence, and we transport dogs to and from their spay/neuter appointments. Chained dogs contribute heavily to the major overpopulation crisis we are experiencing. In 2011, almost 12,000 unwanted animals were euthanized in Mecklenburg County alone. The correlation is that many, if not most, chained dogs are not spayed or neutered.”
Funding comes from people who respond to the coalition’s outreach activities, those sponsoring specific dogs, and those who see what an impact the fencing has on the dogs and neighborhoods.
“The work we do is as much about helping the people in the neighborhoods as it is about helping the dogs,” Warren says. “We have learned that one of the best ways to help companion animals is by helping their companions.
“Once we build several fences on the same street and in the same neighborhood, we see the level of care for dogs in that neighborhood improve. Our recipients are proud of their fences, and we see the pride help make positive changes in their communities.”