As temperatures continue to plummet, animal protection agencies are experiencing an uptick in calls regarding companion animals being left out in the cold.
Of particular concern are dogs tied up alone, exposed to the elements. Across much of Canada, it is entirely legal to leave dogs chained up outside for their entire lives, and nowhere in the country is there a stipulated temperature below or above which a dog cannot be left outdoors.
Pets are obviously suffering, which is why we need a ban on unattended dog tethering.
It is widely believed by animal welfare experts that leaving a dog tied up unattended poses great risk to both dogs and public safety. "Dogs that are tethered or chained are not able to exercise and express natural behaviours, such as socializing or playing," says Ewa Demianowicz of Humane Society International Canada. Demianowicz says that
the practice of tethering dogs, which she calls inhumane, is harmful to the physical and mental well-being of the animals, and can contribute to aggression, "which is a public safety concern."
In Quebec, where dogs can be tethered indefinitely, the Montreal SPCA has launched the Cut the Chain campaign, based in part on research that claims tethered dogs are "nearly three times more likely to bite and are over five times more likely to bite children."
Dogs tied up unattended are also vulnerable to attack from other animals as well as people, being unable to flee or fully defend themselves. In 2017 an unsupervised puppy chained to a porch in Fort McKay, Alta., suffered a brutal beating by a neighbour. The helpless dog suffered extreme head trauma and lost an eye in emergency surgery.
And in times of extreme weather, tethered dogs can also suffer from exposure. Animal care and protection laws across Canada differ, but all stipulate to some degree that companion animals must be provided adequate shelter to protect from extreme weather. However "adequate" and "extreme" are rarely defined.
In some jurisdictions, such as Oshawa, Ont., and Mississauga, Ont., it is specified that dogs kept outdoors be provided shelter that is weather-proof and insulated, though not heated.
Last month, one Windsor, Ont., citizen brought concerns regarding this matter to city council, requesting that when Environment Canada issues extreme cold warnings, dogs not be allowed to be tied outside for more than 15 minutes. Current Windsor bylaws permit dogs to be tied up outside for up to four hours, no matter the weather. Council decided they needed more time to consider the change.
Rules for working dogs
In 2015, a dog named Becky who had reportedly been chained up in Quebec for 14 years, was found frozen to death. Activist group K-9 Unchain Canada published a detailed petition last month in Becky's name, calling on all levels of government to ban unattended tethering of companion, working and sled dogs.
The inclusion of sled dogs is particularly significant, as a ban on unattended tethering would greatly impact businesses and events that use dogs in this way. A recent viral Facebook post showing chained dogs apparently suffering from serious neglect at a Barrie, Ont.-area sled dog company, Windrift Kennel, highlights the special plight of these animals who spend a notable time chained outdoors.
The rules are not the same everywhere, however. The city of Calgary, for example, which is often praised for animal control policies that go above and beyond the rest of the country, has an outright ban on unattended dog tethering. In B.C., tethering is banned in Terrace, New Westminster and Lions Bay.
And while other areas have time limits on unattended tethering, such as four hours per day in Mississauga, Ont., and Surrey, B.C., and one hour in Toronto, such limits are notoriously difficult to monitor and enforce, and they still leave animals and communities vulnerable to many of the same dangers of prolonged thethering.
A blanket ban on unattended dog tethering for any length of time and under any and all weather conditions would arm animal protection agencies with a more straightforward and enforceable way to protect animal welfare. Such a law would mean efforts once spent monitoring lengths of time dogs spent chained up alone could be focused elsewhere.
Some pet owners will of course argue that they should be allowed to tie up their dogs for a few minutes in order to buy a coffee or pick up some dry cleaning. This is actually against the law in places like Vancouver, never mind the fact that it can lead to stress, aggression and risks a pet being stolen.
There is no justification for leaving an animal chained up alone outdoors, vulnerable and at risk: not for a lifetime in favourable weather, not for an hour in the freezing cold. We need to ban unattended dog tethering across Canada and give our pets the protection they deserve.