Off da chain

You’ve seen them: Dogs, dragging a heavy chain or wire from their necks, tied to a stake or a tree or a dilapidated doghouse. The scene around them is equally forlorn—an overturned food dish, a belt of bare ground where the dog paces the day away. They bark, they snarl, they whimper. They have nowhere to go.

Please release me: Local animal-welfare activists seek limits on how long dogs can be tethered outside.

For years, the problem of dog “tethering”—leaving dogs outside for long periods of time while attached to a lead—has attracted national attention. Now, the spotlight has turned to Western North Carolina.

Last month, the animal welfare group Dogs Deserve Better ( included the region in its tour of 12 states, with stops in Shelby and Waynesville. The goal, says group founder Tammy Grimes, was “to prove that it would be very simple to go into any state and find chained dogs.”

Turns out, it was.

“We had a busy day in North Carolina,” Grimes reports. “We were inundated with calls from people wanting help. We were expecting to find at least 10 tethered dogs a day. Well, as it turned out we found as many as 100.”

Right now, just five states have laws regulating the tethering of dogs.  California’s law, passed in 2006, limits the time dogs may be fastened to a stationary object to three hours or less. A Texas law passed last year places strict guidelines on how, and under what conditions, dogs may be tied outside, and makes it illegal for them to be tied out at night. Where tethering restrictions are in place, penalties take the form of other humane laws, beginning with warnings, a notice of violation or citations, followed by fines, which in some states reach as high as $500.

Many counties and municipalities have their own rules. But while one county in North Carolina—New Hanover—has moved to ban tethering outright, the state has yet to enact its own law limiting the practice.

A bill introduced by state Sen. Janet Cowell, S.B. 1172, would change that, limiting a dog’s time on a outside chain or tether to no more than six hours a day and bringing other humane guidelines to bear. But currently, the bill is stalled in the General Assembly.

Tethering, says Asheville resident and anti-tethering activist Lisa Leming, “gives the green light to so many kind of abuses.” She cites a few of the worst examples she’s seen, including a pregnant dog that appeared at a local shelter a day away from whelping, dragging a ragged chain and stake behind her.

“It’s terrible,” Leming says. “And as far as the law is concerned, it’s way overdue.”

To voice your opinion about a statewide anti-tethering law, contact Sen. Tom Apodaca ( or Rep. Susan Fisher (


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9 thoughts on “Off da chain

  1. Monica Schreiber

    Thanks for this article. The plight of the perpetually chained dog is really one of the most overlooked — and serious, given its scope — animal welfare issues out there. Hunters and breeders are the only groups normally opposed to reasonable anti-chaining laws — but their lobbies are strong.

    Nevertheless, nationwide, people and lawmakers are finding ways to protect dogs from a lifetime of agony at the end of a chain while also preserving people’s ability to keep hunting dogs, etc. A recent editorial called these laws “no brainers.” I hope North Carolina will follow the national trend and enact reasonable legislation that protects dogs and finally ends this brutal, antiquated practice.

  2. Stewart David

    The bill isn’t stalled, it died in the last session and hasn’t been reintroduced in the current session.

    Below are the Asheville and Buncombe County ordinances regarding tethering.

    Asheville Ordinance #3238

    Section 312 Animal Care

    (i) It shall be unlawful to tether a dog unless the tether is no less than 15 feet in length, and cannot become tangled or prevent the animal from moving freely or having access to food, water, or shelter.

    Buncombe County Ordinance # 03-11-12

    Section 6-58 Animal Care

    (p) It shall be unlawful to tether an animal to a stationary object for a period of time or under conditions that an animal control officer or animal cruelty investigator deems harmful or potentially harmful to the animal. Tethering may be allowed in certain cases where daily socialization and exercise off the tether can be verified and the animal is not exhibiting health or temperament problems. Examples of improper tethering include, but are not limited to the following:

    a. Using a length or weight of tether that is not appropriate for the size, weight and age of the animal. The restraint must be a minimum of 4 times the length from the tip of the animal’s nose to the tip of the animal’s tail and shall be no less than 10 feet.

    b. Using tether that does not have swivels on both ends. All tethers must be attached to the animal by means of a properly fitting harness or collar of not less than one inch in width made of nylon or leather.

    c. Allowing an animal to tethered such that the animal is not confined to the owner’s property or such that the tether can become entangled and prevent the animal from moving about freely, lying down comfortable or having access to adequate food, water, and shelter.

  3. Jeanine

    My dogs are “tethered” but they are in great condition. They aren’t whimpering or snarling. They are extremely loving. Their dog houses are fine. They have plenty of water. I don’t just leave food out with them though, because they are chow hounds and would overeat, so they get feed the correct amount once a day. They each get walked daily. They each get plenty of love and attention.

    Also, banning “tethering” only hurts the responsible owners. If someone is going to abuse or ignore their dog, they are going to do it whether it’s in a pen, on a chain, or in the house. Most likely, the people chain their dogs irresponsibly will continue to chain, and when they get a fine, they will then just let the dogs run loose, instead of containing their dog at all.

    I will never understand how a 15ft. chain with a 30 ft. radius is “inhumane”, but a tiny little kennel inside the house all day where the dog can’t freely walk around or go to the bathroom is kind.

  4. monica

    No one said keeping a dog in a cage all day is any more kind.

    It is true that there is continuum when it comes to chaining — ranging from people who chain their dogs 24/7 to people who chain occasionally, or for a few hours at a time. It is true that not everyone who chains their dogs for life is treating their dogs in other horrific ways.

    But it is also true that (for example) plenty of people use alcohol and pot responsbily, never drive drunk, never have addiction issues. Does that mean we don’t need laws governing their use? I think not.

    This is a situation where, I suppose, a few “kind chainers” (oxymoron?) will be adversely affected by laws that are needed because most people who chain their dogs for life are NOT as (apparen tly) responsible as you are. They can’t use chaining in a “responsible” way, to borrow on my drugs/alcohol analogy.

    I agree with you that laws totally BANNING chaining are probably unworkable in most places (though a ban is working surprisingly well in places like Austin, TX) Most anti-chaining laws only limit the practice by time/conditions, etc.

    Anti-chaining laws are not perfect. I’ll admit that. No laws are. But the sad truth is that the vast majority of dogs that are chained for their lives or for extended periods of time suffer in all sorts of ways.

    I am not sure why you keep chained dogs, but if you’re a breeder or a hunter, please note that some laws have managed to exempt breeders and hunters.

    If you are not a breeder or a hunter, why do you feel it necessary to keep dogs chained in your yard?

  5. lisette

    Thanks for the information Stewart, that was more than I was able to get out of animal control or AHS. I checked and did not even see it listed on either site (so I emailed it to them)!

    The 2007 bill was pretty much shouted down by what seems to be a coalition of breeders. Most trainers dog experts and trainers agree that tethering is dangerous and inhumane (although I too think it’s a no-brainer). Three out of four dogs attacks are due to unsocialized chained and penned dogs. Also, it encourages puppy mills and dogs fighting rings who typically chain and tether their dogs. The ordinance that was proposed in 2007 was a 6 hour limit. There was also some concern that it would penalize the poor and those who could not afford a fence, however in many places dog living conditions are written into the bill (such as a dog must have at least 150 sq feet of living space,in Texas.) Also, humane groups such as the above Dogs Deserve Better, will even donate fencing for those who cannot afford it. Furthermore, we are not even talking about 8 hours on the chain, but 24/7, in the worst case scenario. (Usually the real problem is not money or resources, but the fact that people do not wish to house train their dogs.) Many local humane societies and groups can even help with that!

    Although many dogs are “outside dogs”, they prefer to be in their human “pack” when not running around and playing. Many dogs that Tammy Grimes of DDB visited in her trip across 12 states (N. Carolina was the second worse, after S. Carolina with 104 dogs she found chained) had become so viscous and dysfunctional that even their owners could not get near them. Of course, there is always the problem of “forgotten dogs” who are simply left to starve, freeze (in colder climates) or dehydrate, which does happen. Without good laws, owners are free to simply let their “best friend” live in cold and painful isolation 24/7. In a case that has garnered recent national attention, Tammy was arrested in PA for rescuing a dying dog, whose owners had left for a w/e of four wheeling. He was a German Shepherd who was unable to get up and had been crying and pawing the air for three days. He had been on the same chain without respite, for 10 years.

    I have never lived in an area where the majority of citizens and dog owners would not support tethering limits. There is usually a small but vocal minority who oppose them because it interferes with their business practices. (Many former members of the AKC have revoked their memberships due to their recent public criticisms of tethering laws.) It also effects over population as in irresponsible dog owners who tether their dogs without spaying and neutering them.

    The opportunities for abuse without good laws are much more dangerous and traumatic than problems than may or may not arise from these laws. Naturally no law is completely enforceable, but that doesn’t mean you should not them. It’s better to err on the side of common sense. Afterall, many counties have had ordinances for years and the two largest and most populated states (Texas and California) now have a state-wide 3 hour limit. This is the most common ordinance (3 hour limit) However any kind of limit is an improvement on none at all.)

    Janet Clegg is no longer in charge of this bill. We are lobbying state reps to introduce a new bill and please find all contact information on my site at or write to the above reps.

    Thank you again MountainX and Kent, for writing and running this story, MountainX is always there for animals! They are running a free ad for dog chaining also the pet section for me, free of charge. Other magazines and papers I had contacted to donate ads or feature stories were were Asheville Citizen Times, Critter and Bark Magazines.

    Lisa G. Leming

  6. lisette

    Also, it’s important to note that a dog’s attitude is not always the best indication. The vast majority of dogs are sweet, loving, friendly and loyal no matter how they are treated. That’s kinda the problem with dogs. However, that doesn’t mean they are completely satisfied with their situation. The above mentioned rescue “Doogie” was sweet and loving until the day he died several months after his rescue. (He was hidden in an undisclosed location and finally given medical attention after Tammy refused to return him to his “owners”, who were never charged with animal cruelty!)

    I once read of a pit bull who was rescued from a crack house in Washington DC. The dog had two broken back legs and yet still managed to drag himself across the floor, crawl into the lap of the animal control officer and lick him on the face! (Which is another serious problem, strong breeds and energetic breeds like pit bulls being chained in yards as “status symbols”.)

    You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell
    you, they will be there long before any of us.
    ~Robert Louis Stevenson

  7. Jeanine

    Also, Cornell University did a Study on Chaining. I suggest you all take a look at it.

    Chains don’t make the dog vicious. Irresponsible or Abusive Owners make a dog vicious (or many times poor genetics). I think people are mistaking an effective way to contain a dog with neglect. Like I said above, if someone is going to neglect their dog, they are going to do it, whether you allow them to chain their dog or not. Also, I don’t think you realize that those people who neglect their dogs aren’t going to put the money in to get a fence or pen, so they are going to let their dogs run loose, which will be a much bigger problem, not only for the dog but the whole neighbor.

  8. monica schreiber

    Thanks for your comments – couldn’t have said it better myself. I post comments fairly often to stories about chained dogs, as it is kind of my “hot button” issue, and there is always at least one person who signs and and says, essentially: “Oh, we don’t need laws because I chain my dogs and my dogs are not miserable and I feed them and give them water and walk them occasionally, etc. etc.”

    To me that is the equivalent of saying (for example) “Oh, we don’t need laws governing alcohol and marijuana use because I drink responsibly, I never dive high, I hold down a good job, etc. etc.”

    The sad reality is that we need legislation to send a strong message to so many people who are NOT responsible about caring for their pets.

    I understand that this is an issue that runs a long continuum – from people who chain their dog to a trash can for 10 years to people who occasionally chain for short periods. Not all chaining is horrific, which is why I – even as an anti-chaining proponent – do not advocate for TOTAL bans. Anti-chaining laws are not perfect, but they send a strong signal to people who think nothing of taking the “easy way out” with regard to a social, intelligent animal bred to be a COMPANION animal (yes, I know…some dogs are working dogs…)

  9. lisette

    Thank you Monica,

    I did visit your link too Jeanine.

    It looked like a study comparing tethers and pens and that the conclusion was that there was no significant difference between penning and tethering, which I agree with. This report was not concerning house pets but livestock (USDA). Sled dogs are considered live stock and treated that way (not that I agree with the way livestock is treated either!) Any dogs used in commerce such as greyhounds, sled dogs, breeding mills and even fighting dogs are probably going to be chained or penned and they all suffer greatly.

    I certainly wouldn’t advocate penning as an alternative to chaining. Penning is certainly not the solution but housebreaking. These laws should also cover constant penning and usually do. I just had one phone conversation with Kent, if you look on my link it will say cover both chained and penned dogs. DDB advocates for both chained and penned dogs as does all of their literature. There are a number of links on my site and on the DDB site that have more information and the overwhelming consensus is that chaining and penning is bad for dogs and dangerous for people. There are several books on this including Fatal Dogs Attacks by Karen DeLise as well as the site Since October 2003, there have been at least 213 children killed and/or seriously injured by chained dogs in this country (that have been reported).

    It is better to err on the side of prudence. Is it worth even one dog spending his entire life at the end of a chain or in a pen? If a dog is running lose, then that is a problem easily solved, a violation. However, anyone who has ever had a neighbor who has left his poor dog out night and day 24/7, worried, called animal control only to be told that “they weren’t breaking the law, knows what I am talking about. You hear them crying, see their sad, dead looking eyes and their poor little souls wasting away on a chain or in a pen. Good responsible dog owners have nothing to fear. Three hours is really maximum for the amount of time a dog needs to be outside and unsupervised with no access to the indoors in any situation. I have always had several dogs and have not always even had a fence or a yard, but I neither chain, pen or kennel. If you love your dog, you’ll housebreak it, just like you would a child.

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