Dog owners, beware of bill
TIME LIMIT: For keeping a pooch tied up too long, SB 1578 would impose fines and even jail time.
10:00 PM PDT on Friday, August 18, 2006
A proposed state law would outlaw chaining or tethering a dog for more than three hours per day, a practice that some regard as animal cruelty and others see as the only way to keep unsupervised animals from escaping an owner's yard.
The bill, SB 1578, would impose a maximum fine of $250 for infractions, and up to $1,000 for misdemeanor violations. A misdemeanor also could be punishable by up to six months in county jail.
State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, authored the bill at the request of the California Animal Control Directors' Association, a nonprofit organization that represents city and county animal shelters and their employees. Lowenthal introduced the bill in February, and it has progressed through committee hearings in the state Senate and Assembly.
The next step is a vote by the full Assembly. As the Legislature's session winds to a close, all bills must be submitted to Gov. Schwarzenegger by Aug. 31.
"Long-term tethering is one of the leading causes of aggression in dogs," Lowenthal said by phone Friday, citing reports from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The primary cause of creating viciousness is keeping a dog tied up with no exercise," he said. "There are inexpensive, reasonable alternatives" like pulley systems sold in pet stores that allow dogs to wander a larger area, Lowenthal said.
In the unincorporated area of Mead Valley, west of Perris and east of Corona, "Beware of Dog" signs are commonplace. Theft in the area is a major problem, so many residents own dogs.
Guillermo Ahumada, 24, said many dogs used to roam the community's streets because residents didn't confine the animals, and they would get loose. Now, he said, more residents are restraining their dogs, and it has made the streets safer.
"I would like to keep my dog unleashed, but when I'm not here, he stays tied up," said Ahumada, whose husky was tied to a minivan in the driveway Friday afternoon.
Adonis Burton, 20, frequently visits his grandmother's house, where a pit bull is tied up in the front yard. He said keeping the dog leashed on the property is a safety issue for visitors and the dog itself, along with the children and other animals who live at the house.
"People want to be safe, because you don't know what the animals are thinking," Burton said.
Jose Robles, 42, purchased a Rottweiler a year ago after someone stole a $5,000 motorcycle from his front yard. He said he ties his dog up only when visitors come onto the property and when he leaves. The dog, he noted, doesn't like it.
But Robles said he would favor the proposed law. "It's better for the dogs," he said in Spanish.
Lowenthal said opposition to his bill has come primarily from rural and agricultural groups.
Murrieta resident Melinda Suglio runs a dog-training business, The K-9 Game Plan, and belongs to the International Association of Canine Professionals, based in Montverde, Fla.
"I'm against chaining dogs," Suglio said. Tethering dogs deprives the animal of mental stimulation and thwarts its natural inclination to move away when it feels menaced, she said.
"People don't realize that any pet can be aggressive when it's put in an environment where it feels threatened and can't retreat," she said. "I don't think the majority of people understand that chaining a dog is so miserable for the dog."
Chaining up a dog also creates stress and defensive responses "to any perceived encroachment to its territory or possessions," she said. "The natural fight or flight response that's afforded to most animals in stressful situations is denied. Basically, he can only retreat the length of the chain."
Confined dogs can even lash out at humans who come to its aid, such as when the animal's neck or paw becomes tangled in the restraint, Suglio said.
Author, dog trainer and canine behavior expert Matthew Margolis, known to many as Uncle Matty, said Lowenthal's bill would be difficult to enforce and offers few alternatives to dog owners. "The state's not going to pay for (every owner to build) a dog run," he said.
Margolis said there should be greater restrictions on pet ownership, so that people provide proper care and humane treatment for their animals.
"You have to have a license to drive a car. You should need a license to own a dog," Margolis said by phone.
What about the owners who say: "I don't have a fence. I work all day," Margolis said. Dogs "should be in a fenced-in yard with water," he said.
Further, the bill is impractical on a statewide level, and would be better suited to California's city and county governments to craft to each area's specific rural, urban or suburban characteristics, Margolis said.
Staff writer Sonja Bjelland contributed to this report.