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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

WA Lege Day 37: Dogs on chains

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

Good senators, said supporters who told the Senate Judiciary that chained or tethered dogs are more likely to turn mean and sometimes deliberately mistreated so they’ll be angry watchdogs at drug or gang houses.

Bad senators, said opponents who 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...

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..It wants some work on language for 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.”

Some panel members had questions about how the bill would apply. Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said she was worried about over-generalizing. “We’re trying to legislate common sense and compassion; it’s extraordinarily difficult to write that into statute.”

Members of the committee said they are concerned about animal cruelty and related personal experiences with dogs, both chained and unchained. That led to the following joking exchange between Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, and Hargrove about encountering chained dogs on the campaign trail.

Kline: More than once I've observed a dog on a chain running to the end of the chain and being jerked off by it.

Hargrove: It's obviously a conservative.

Kline: We can talk about the authoritarian nature of people who deal with dogs that way and how dogs are sometimes an extension of people.

Hargrove: You're going down the wrong path.

Kline: I can't help it. My dog's a border collie and he's smarter than I am.

Hargrove: You got that on tape, too.

Kline: It's true.

Hargrove: Maybe he should run for the Senate?

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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