Solitary confinement: The sad plight of Rutherford County’s chained dogs
A few weeks back, someone who lives on my street passed some upsetting information my way. He told me that the house behind him had kept several dogs that, over time, would become completely emaciated before disappearing.
They might have one now, he told me. The last time he’d seen her she looked pretty bad; he thought she might be starving to death. Did I want to see for myself?
I quickly walked through his backyard to see if there was indeed a dog in such a situation.
When we reached the yard of the house behind him, I took a long look around. Garbage was scattered everywhere. A bin overflowing with an astonishing number of empty beer cans sat next to a rotting wooden lean-to. The man pointed at the structure and told me that’s where they’d kept the dog. But there was no dog there. After a moment, he said she must not have made it.
My eyes fell on a rusty baby swing. Please don’t tell me these people have children, I said to him.
Oh yes, they have several, he replied.
At this point I asked him if he’d ever called the police. He responded he’d never called anyone because he didn’t know who to call.
This is a difficult story to read, I know. I share it because I think there are many others who don’t actually know what to do when they learn about an animal in distress. What kind of action should we take?
What if we make the problem worse?
I’ve grappled with similar questions myself.
When we first moved to Spindale, I quickly became aware of a residence two blocks up the street with a dog that always seemed to be outside when I passed by. It eventually became apparent that the dog lived at the end of a rope, which stayed tied to a rickety old doghouse. I thought about the gnats that must have plagued her in the summer…about the doghouse that was likely little respite from the biting frost of winter.
I became obsessed with the idea of freeing her.
One day I knocked on the door of the house where her people lived, thinking as a first step I would try and befriend them. It turned out to be a single mother and her two teenagers. They politely accepted the gift bag of dog treats I handed them, but I know they wondered why I was there.
More time passed, and one day I finally got up the nerve to ask for what I’d really wanted all along: could I take their dog for a walk on occasion? It seemed, I tried to say with some tact, they didn’t have much time to do so themselves.
The answer was a flat no. Not long after, they moved away, taking the dog with them.
I’ve since learned — to both my relief and also my dismay that I didn’t know it at the time — that it’s actually against the law in Spindale to keep a dog continuously chained. Our town police will actually go to the house where it’s happening and talk to the owners about it. If the owners are repeatedly warned but still keep their dog chained up, they can lose the animal for good.
Why would anyone do this to their dog in the first place?
Mostly because they don’t know or care that animals can suffer terribly under such conditions. And not just physically, which is bad enough (imagine how you’d feel chained up for any length of time, much less your entire life) but also psychologically.
Yes, psychologically. Anyone who has ever kept and cared about a dog knows these are sentient beings with an enormous capacity to feel love and fear and joy and sadness.
People also banish their dogs to a chain because they are unable or unwilling to housetrain them, and of course, some people don’t believe dogs should be allowed inside at all. Whichever category they belong to, if they can’t afford a fence, the dog ends up affixed to a rope or a chain. Or sometimes, a small pen — which isn’t always much better.
There is a growing movement to help dogs in such situations, including groups like the “Coalition to Unchain Dogs” that provide and build free fencing. The group has several chapters in North Carolina, although none yet in Rutherford County. For more information, visit www.unchaindogs.net.
We also need to make continuous chaining and confinement against the law throughout the county. I know I’m not the only one sick at heart over the sight of a dog cruelly yoked to a chain or rope all day and night.
For the record, I did end up calling both Child Protective Services and our local animal control officer about the house with the litter-strewn yard. But I recently learned that the people who lived there had already cleared out.
What will happen to their children…or any future animal they acquire…I don’t know. It may very well depend on people that live nearby and who won’t hesitate to take action if they see a glaring red flag like a starving chained dog.
Stephanie Janard is a mother and writer who lives in Spindale. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.