Friday, November 14, 2008


The dog rescue world is not a united front. The more I find out about it, the more I realize that a lot of people's energies go not into improving the lives of canines but into fighting against one another. I think the biggest fight is between those who support animal rights and those who support animal welfare. Animal welfare supporters believe that domestic animals should be properly taken care of but remain under the control of human guardians - as in a typical, compassionate owner/pet relationship. Animal welfare people tend to be the ones who support rescues and shelters. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, would like to give animals inalienable rights, but more controversially, at least with the extreme fringe, would like to see the whole idea of domesticated animals eradicated. PETA would be an example of an animal rights organization.

That fight is a doozy and I'm not going to wade into it here but if you want to immerse yourself into that war of words all you need to do is google it.

It's not just the bigger idealogical differences, though, that create tension and animosity. Even something more minor can cause significant confusion and bitterness.

For example, in the United States (and what happens there usually makes an appearance up here in Canada if it hasn't already) there have recently erupted dozens if not hundreds of municipal anti-tethering laws. On the surface, anti-tethering laws seem to serve the cause of humane treatment of dogs. They were implemented to stop people from keeping their dogs tied up outside all the time because that is a form of abuse.

You know the stereotype: some trash family has an unfortunate, unsocialized, untrained and basically unwanted dog tied up with a twelve foot chain to a metal stake stuck in the ground. The only time the dog gets any attention from its owners is when one of them sticks his fat head out the trailer and screams at it to shut up and stop barking or throws it some chicken bones and stale bread for supper.

Dogs are social animals and need to be able to interact with people, or at least other dogs, and so this particular chained dog, frustrated, bored and quite possibly just pissed off at its life long predicament, gets aggressive and barks and lunges at anyone that passes by. Maybe the dog spends its whole life chained up or maybe one day, as it's lunging, the dog breaks its chains and chases someone down and does some serious damage. Then the dog gets taken to the pound and killed. That frees the family up to go out and get a puppy and the cycle starts all over again.

With an anti-tethering law, the authorities can now come in, charge the family with abuse and rescue the dog from its intolerable predicament. Sounds good but ...

The problem is that while such a broadly defined law may catch some of the baddies out there, it may also end up hurting a lot of decently kept dogs and well-intentioned owners. Part of the difficulty is specifying exactly what constitutes illegal tethering. It's obvious that tying a dog up 24/7 is inhumane, but what about for 5 minutes while you step inside a coffeeshop to get a coffee (not that I'd ever do that in Toronto)? What about if someone didn't have a fenced yard and tied their dog to a tree for a few hours to give their dog a bath and then let it stay outside to dry off? Those are two pretty clear examples of fairly acceptable behaviour towards dogs but unacceptable according to anti-tethering laws.

Okay, but no fair minded judge would penalize a dog owner in such harmless examples -you'd hope. That would be like being charged for driving 5 km/hr over the speed limit. Doesn't happen. Well, not often anyway.

So, when should charges be layed? Well, who knows? Up to the discretion of the animal control officer, I suppose. And to even further muddy the situation, what happens when opinions about the nature of tethering itself differ? How is a tether that much different from a kennel, or a crate which is even smaller, with respect to the dog? Consider how a 12 foot tether allows a dog a 24 foot diameter circle in which to move. You'd have to build an awfully big kennel to cover the same amount of ground. Some dogs may actually do better on a tether whereas other dogs left to either a tether or kennel over long periods of time can develop behavioural problems and yet there are no anti-kenneling laws. There are certainly no anti-crating laws as severe as the anti-tethering laws and yet a crate is much more movement restrictive than either kennel or tether.

Confining a dog for several hours every day - while it may not be ideal (I don't do it but I know many people who do and swear by it), may not be that detrimental to a dog as long as the dog has freedom and human company the rest of the time. And it depends on the dog as well. A dog that sleeps all day probably wouldn't even mind that much being movement constrained for 8 hours but a dog that is high energy may do really poorly. How are you suppose to account for dog personalities in law?

It seems to me that the problem here is neither tethering, kenneling nor crating but neglect. And, since neglect is subjective and also dependent on the individual dog, it's a lot harder to define in law and prove in court than something as straightforward and black and white as a decree against tethering so of course the easier legislation is passed. It remains to be seen whether such sweeping laws will result in better conditions or worse conditions for dogs in general. In the meantime, the bickering amongst dog activists continue.


Caveat said...

Good post, Fred.

Opponents of anti-tethering, like all real-world animal lovers, are not usually people who would abuse this form of containment. The objection isn't to the principles of humane treatment. It's to the growing encroachment of the animal rights/liberation ideology, the loss of privacy and in the US, property rights that leads to opposition.

It's really the old 'give them an inch' situation.

Animal rights activists are not concerned about animal welfare. They aren't even particularly fond of animals, if their statements are true. People need to get that.

Their goal is to end the breeding and ownership of animals; the eradication of domestic species. It's a fairly old philosophy and was explained to me as an offshoot of Utilitarianism.

I wonder how the AR groups justify the killing and sterilization of animals, if they believe as they profess that animals have rights to self-determination.

As a political philosopher pointed out to me, it doesn't take much work at all to spot the huge holes in the ideology.

Animal welfare advocates such as myself accept that domesticated animals need humans to survive and believe that life without these animals, especially dogs, would be intolerable. We are not trying to force quasi-religious beliefs on anyone. We just want people to treat the animals in their care with the respect and kindness they deserve.

It's a huge difference and will never be reconciled because the goals, philosophy and methods of the two groups are diametrically opposed.

One side seeks death and destruction - a bleak, colourless future - using duplicitous propaganda. The other works for life and love using facts and science.

Let's just hope the good guys win.

Anonymous said...

Reading my email again, Fred?

This kind of infighting is endemic in the Balkans, even between very similar groups: infighting is just a feature of that culture.

There were people there who refused to speak to me simply because I was a Canadian and, therefore, in their minds, guilty of the annual seal hunt. They were not going to be persuaded that I might actually oppose the seal hunt, nor would they be influenced by the fact that the majority of on the ground anti-seal hunt activists are Canadians. As far as they were concerned, my nationality sufficed to bring the blood guilt, and make me unworthy of participation in their noble effort.

This is a disgrace: all the energy used in-fighting could be going to help animals, of all sorts and in all conditions, and bringing basic education to an essentially ignorant public.

Me, I am more a welfarist than a rights crusader, but I do share a fair number of the rights movement's beliefs about the equal right of all to live the best possible life according to their nature. It's just that we do not always agree on what that entails.

That does not mean we cannot work together. Far from it. People who really put the animal ahead of their egos will co-operate with those with whom they disagree to save animals in danger.

Our little network from Srbija to Canada/Austria/Germany includes strict animal rights vegans, "Mommies" who dress their cats like little children, breeders of show dogs, poor old women who haven't given the issue a thought, and a lot of people who just 'like animals'.

Sometimes, we argue among ourselves about the ethics, and our various positions. But it does not stop the work. Whatever each of us might think is the ultimate goal, we all recognise the immediate need to do something to improve the life of this animal, right here, right now.

I am terribly proud to be associated with all my colleagues, regardless of their personal opinions, regardless of whether or not we agree on every little thing. These are the people who do the most for the animals, not the people who put achieving moral clarity before actually performing a single co-operative act.

Sure, this one has qualms about my personal approach to diet, and I wonder about that one's tendency to overfeed her cats. And, maybe someday we might just have a real argument about our differences.

But not right now: not with 10 puppies and five adults to get to Dusseldorf next week, where more than half of them have already got people waiting to give them a better life.

Because, as the Talmud says, when you save a life, you save a whole world. And I'd sooner save one world than achieve moral clarity, but save no one.

Caveat said...

I agree with the points you've made. I completely agree with the professed goals of many animal rights organizations (including the H$U$) and have since childhood, since I was raised to believe that other animals deserve respect and kindness.

The difficulty for me is that while I have always believed that other animals are equal to humans if different, the animal rights groups do not. They purport to speak for these other nations, to dictate to them and decide for them. The language they use is incorrect.

I am therefore sometimes forced to oppose their initiatives only because their goal is extinction and mine is preservation and for some reason I'm able to look into the future and see the obvious outcomes of their duplicitous activities.

If the animal liberation movement could be correctly relegated to its rightful place on the fringe the world would be a better place for all species.

As it stands, their self-insinuation into the legislative process only leads to death and suffering for our Only Friend, who cast his lot with us more than 40,000 years ago.

I won't let that friendship die and won't turn my back on my friend when he needs me most.

If the extremists are not defeated, our friends will vanish.

Of that, I am fully convinced.

Brent said...


Nice post on this. I think most rational people, that care about animals, are opposed to the prolonged tethering of dogs and find it abusive. How that is translated into law is a much harder problem.

One of the biggest problems with restrictive tethering laws is how they are enforced. Often, instead of using the law as a reason to talk to the owner about the humane treatment of animals, our animal control authorities (at the nudging of many AR and AW folks) are out to punish these owners that are "not treating animals the right way".

So instead of using it as a forum to educated the owners about the proper treatment of animals -- which could better the life for the dog -- they either a) levy a very high fine that many cannot afford that leads to the dog being confiscated by animal control and going to the shelter or b) just having the dog confiscated and going to the shelter.

The net result is almost always, more dogs in the shelter -- which in the vast majority of cities in the North America, means the animals die (or are "euthanized" for those who don't like "die").

I'm in favor of restrictive tethering laws. I think it's better for animals, and can have a big impact on public safety. HOWEVER, that is with the understanding that enforcement will be geared toward education -- not punishment (ie death for the dog) - for those in violation.

As you note, the idea is to have the dogs properly cared for -- not to get people who are leaving their dog on a tether to mingle with family in the unfenced back yard but just being sure the dog doesn't sneak away.