February 16, 2011 in City

Washington Senate considers fines for dog owners who keep canines chained up

By The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Keeping a dog chained up in unsafe conditions could get the owner fined under a proposal being considered by the Washington state Senate.

Supporters told the Senate Judiciary committee that chained or tethered dogs are more likely to turn mean and sometimes are deliberately mistreated so they’ll be angry watchdogs at drug or gang houses.

Opponents argued existing law already protects dogs from unsafe conditions whether they are chained or running free. Most dog bites, and all recent deaths caused by dog attacks, occurred with dogs that weren’t chained, they said.

The Senate Judiciary committee isn’t quite ready to roll over on the issue. It wants some changes in Senate Bill 5649, which would make it a misdemeanor to repeatedly keep a dog outside on a chain or tether without adequate food, water and shelter, in severe weather or other unsafe or unsanitary conditions. Owners would first get warnings and information about safer practices, then a civil infraction ticket, then a misdemeanor charge for repeat violations.

“Tethering is connected to neglect,” said Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Deborah Eurich, who told the panel it is already illegal in some states.

That prompted an objection from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who said he lives in the country and doesn’t want his dogs to run off and get hit by a car. “I think it’s cruel to keep a dog in the house. Sometimes tethering appropriately is way more freedom than keeping them in the kennel.”

Kim Koon, an animal cruelty investigator for Pasado’s Safe Haven in Shelton, said chained dogs are sometimes used as “alarm dogs” for drug labs, kept in poor conditions with minimal food and water to warn of anyone’s approach.

But Diane Jessup, a retired animal control officer and author of books on dog behavior, said there are times when tethering a dog is both necessary and humane. “To say that chaining makes a dog vicious is ridiculous … an absolute myth. It’s better than them sitting in a crate or an unheated garage.”

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