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Chain Reaction

By Sarah Newman

April 1, 2005, CREVE COEUR, MISSOURI -- "There ought to be a law." That's what Connie Davie of Creve Coeur thought when she saw dogs tied outside, all alone, day and night, in every kind of weather. In fact, she thought, as images of the lonely, pathetic-looking canines kept creeping into her mind, surely there is a law against such obvious abuse.

Curious, Davie called her local police department to find out just what the law said. It said nothing. There was no law. As long as a dog has access to food, water and shelter, the law was happy.

But Davie had seen too many tethered dogs with "access to food, water and shelter" that were not happy. And that made her not happy, too. "So I thought, well, if there's no law, then we've got to make a law," she said.

Davie does not make a habit of fighting city hall. The retired elementary-school math teacher with two grown daughters would rather spend time with her husband, Richard. Or entertaining her four young grandchildren (not necessarily all at once). Or volunteering for Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Or walking Eddie and Sherry, the dogs she fostered for Stray Rescue and ended up keeping.

But, she said, "I saw a need in my area for a law that addressed this issue of tethering." Animals were suffering. And when animals are suffering, Davie acts.

"I contacted my council representative, Beth Kistner, and I told her of my concern about dogs being continuously tethered and about the lack of legislation in Creve Coeur to deal with it," she said.

"Beth was very sympathetic to my proposal, and she understood exactly what I was talking about. We worked very well together."

Davie did reams of research on the subject of dog tethering. But she gives Kistner much of the credit for the ordinance she ended up presenting to the Creve Coeur City Council.

"I worked with Beth for three to four months drafting an ordinance that we thought would be enforceable. I also worked with our police chief, Don Kayser, since he would be the one who'd have to enforce whatever we came up with," she said.

"When I first met with the police chief, I told him I didn't expect the police to be cruising around looking for chained dogs. And I told the city council that I didn't expect the police to be the dog gestapo. But if someone calls to report that a dog is being mistreated, the police need to have the leverage to act on it."

Davie presented her case to the city council in November. When she returned two weeks later for the first reading of the proposed ordinance, she said, one of the council members told her he originally pegged her as an animal-rights radical.

"Then he said that in the two weeks since my presentation he had played golf several times and that from the golf course he could see a dog tied in a yard doing nothing but pace," Davie said. "He said the dog had paced so much it had worn a rut in the yard. And he told me, 'That dog was so pathetic. I understand now where you're coming from, and I agree with you. It's not a good thing. You've opened my eyes.' "

When the ordinance was voted on in January, it passed unanimously.

Davie smiled when she recalled that the final draft of the ordinance had a mistake in it. "It said that a dog could not be tied out continuously for more than six hours. It was supposed to say eight hours, because we wanted to take people who work into consideration. When one of the council members pointed out the typo, another council member said they'd be happy if it said we couldn't chain a dog outside at all," she said.

Davie still is amazed at the relative ease with which the ordinance passed. So much so that she has decided to broaden the battlefield. She wants to get a similar measure enacted in St. Louis County.

"The county is in the process of rewriting its animal ordinances, so this is the perfect time to approach them," she said, adding that she's almost ready to contact her county councilman with her proposal.

"The county's big thrust is on pet overpopulation, so this should be right up their alley. Leaving dogs tied outside is an invitation to pet overpopulation if the dogs aren't spayed or neutered, because of all the unrestrained dogs that roam around neighborhoods," she said.

"There's the safety issue, too," she added. "A tethered dog can't escape if it's attacked by another dog or by a human. And tethered dogs can become aggressive."

Davie is hoping that others will join her crusade, not just in St. Louis County but in other municipalities. "What we did in Creve Coeur has been done in at least 59 other communities across the country," she said. "It's becoming kind of a movement, I think."

Some provisions in Creve Coeur's tethering ordinance

- Tethers must be at least 15 feet long with a swivel at both ends and must be attached by means of a properly fitting harness or collar of nylon or leather in proportion to the size of the animal.

- Leaving a dog or cat tethered outdoors for more than eight continuous hours or more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period is prohibited

- Tethering a dog or cat under conditions where the animal or tether can become entangled or where the tether restricts access to "suitable, edible, and sufficient food, clean water (cool in summer and unfrozen in winter) and appropriate shelter" is prohibited.

- Exposing a dog or cat to "any weather conditions that cause immediate imminent threat to the animal's physical well-being" is prohibited.

- Tethering a dog or cat outdoors in unsafe or unsanitary conditions or in a way that "does not allow the animal to defecate or urinate in an area separate from the areas where it must eat, drink, or lie down" is prohibited.

Why is long-term tethering a bad idea?

- Chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained ones, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that the dogs most likely to bite are male, unneutered and chained.

 - Chaining does not make a dog protective; it makes it aggressive, which means it may attack anyone, friend or foe.

- In the past year and a half, at least 21 children have been seriously injured or killed in attacks by chained dogs, according to information compiled by Dogs Deserve Better, a nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing chained dogs and bringing them into the home and the family.

- Dogs are social animals who suffer severe psychological damage if kept chained in one spot for hours, days, months and years.

 - Tethered dogs can become entangled and choke or strangle to death. The necks of chained dogs often become raw and sore from the constant rubbing of their collars, which sometimes become embedded.

 - Tethered dogs are targets for other animals, stinging insects and other dangers, and are easy prey for abusive humans and pet thieves.