Trying to persuade my neighbors not to chain up their dog
(This is not Furr, but they look alike, and this is how Furr was tied up all day.)
By Molly Tamulevich
It’s a warm day for October in Michigan. I’m sitting on my porch with my laptop. In front of me stand tall evergreen bushes dripping with juicy, dusty looking red berries. To my right is the peeling brown house where my neighbor Stacy lives, her blinds constantly cracked so that she can observe the neighborhood. There is broken glass on the street, a vacant lot on the corner, and, most importantly, tethered where I cannot see him, is Furr.
I know exactly what Furr is doing right now, because he is unable to do anything else. Right now, with the sun shining and the last traces of summer falling from the trees, Furr is sitting in the dirt surrounded by pieces of chewed up cardboard. He may be digging at the large hole he began last week. Perhaps he is staring at my driveway or gnawing at the side of the house where his rope is tied. He certainly can’t be suffering, because according to Michigan State law, Furr’s life is not in violation of animal welfare standards. So why do I lie awake at night thinking about him?
If Furr were not grey from the dirt he lies in all day, he would be white with liver colored patches dap-pling his sides, ears and face. He is going on 7 months old, with yellow eyes that stare unblinkingly like a fish. He has migrated three times in the two months I have lived in my house. Initially, he was tied up to the tree in front of his owner’s house with a heavy chain secured with a padlock. Then the chain was switched out for a long red tether, and within a few weeks, he was tied to another tree right outside my bedroom window.
My upstairs neighbor, a prostitute and drug dealer whose business dealings keep her loudly awake most nights, likes to go and visit with the puppy, but Furr’s owner confronted her one day and insisted that she leave him alone because they want him as a guard dog. This resulted in Furr being moved closer to his house, tied along a stairway. Where he was once able to move in a circle around trees, he is restricted to pacing a half moon of dust and garbage.
Making friends with Furr
Furr’s owner is a friendly man who treats the puppy affectionately when I see them interact. He and I wave to each other. I’m in a difficult position. My lease is two years long and the neighborhood is not the best. No one is breaking the law, and I don’t want to attract attention to myself if I call animal control. I’ve heard horror stories about neighbors who retaliate when investigated, and I do not trust my neighbor. I’m not stupid. He and I are friendly, but he is also involved with the drug deals upstairs and has a lot of late night visitors who only stay for a few minutes before peeling out of the driveway. I really really want to like him, however. He makes me smile and calls the dog Furball, ruffling his ears with a gentle hand.
One of the problems I have with my advocate friends is the lack of sensitivity they display when ap-proaching this type of situation. I acknowledge that there are many ways of keeping companion animals and that the owned home with a white picket fence may not be appropriate or available for everyone. With this in mind, however, there is nothing promising about Furr’s future.
In the interest of my own safety and in attempting to respect Furr’s owner, I decide to try to build a relationship with my neighbor and make myself available to care for the dog if he needs it. I begin by visiting with Furr every day. I bring him treats and toys, simple things like toilet paper rolls stuffed with food. I rarely see anyone outside with the puppy, and his body changes drastically when he sees me approach. He tenses, then wiggles, his baggy baby skin rolling over developing muscles as he strains against the fraying cord that holds him prisoner.
After a few weeks, I ask my neighbor if it would be possible to take Furr running with me. He agrees enthusiastically. I believe that this may be the most crucial step. In my mind, the puppy will get exercise, my neighbor and I will build up trust, and if Furr is still being tethered by the first frost, I will call animal control and with have a legitimate case because they can cite the weather as a reason to confiscate him. No one will be the wiser.
The plan has been a disaster.
I went next door, ready to run, and was met by my neighbor’s girlfriend who I had never seen before. She coldly informed me that I could take it up with her boyfriend when he came home. He drove up a minute later and came over to me smiling, offering to get me the puppy. He didn’t have a leash and so I took Furr running on his tether. He was wonderful, so desperate to be near me that he followed every footstep, never pulling, never running off. I sat with him and held his body in my lap. We ran laps around a nearby park and he looked up at me through blades of grass, eyes thoughtful. When I returned to his house, I was again faced with the girlfriend. She looked down at me through the closed door of their porch and spoke to me through the window. “Tie him up on the tree” she said angrily, and walked back into the house. The porch was covered in debris, toys and garbage. My heart sank. I was not a welcome presence at their house. I grudgingly tied Furr to the tree and patted his head.
That afternoon, my neighbors had a terrible fight. I almost called the police. The girlfriend ran out of the house screaming and fled down the street. That night, Furr’s house was filled with banging noises. An invisible wall went up around the property, and I felt that broaching it was unsafe. I resigned myself to waiting and tried not to pay attention when the puppy looked expectantly at me when I passed by.
The day after the first frost, a truck appeared in the grass between my house and Furr’s. I assumed that it was new tenants moving in, as there had been a ‘for rent’ sign up in the front yard for months. Furr’s humans fought violently in the front yard that day, and I didn’t venture outside until I left for dinner. When I came home, I looked out my window into a brightly lit, empty house. I dashed outside. Furr was gone. Garbage lay in heaps around the yard. I ran upstairs to where my new neighbor, just out of the army lived. “Please come with me next door” I begged him, “I need to see if they left the dog inside”. Despite never having met me before, he helped me kick down the door. The heat was on full blast. There were toys strewn all over the floor and the back porch smelled like dog urine. Furr was gone.
I lurked for days by my window waiting for the family to return for the rest of their things. I pestered the landlord who told me he didn’t have their phone number. My neighbor even saw Furr’s owner and asked him if he could have the dog. The owner said that he would drop him off, but never came. In the blink of an eye, I lost my chance. I had waited too long to call for help.
It has been proven that tethering dogs is a major cause of aggression. Bored and under-exercised, chained animals can eventually become territorial, unpredictable and violent. Unfortunately, many states do not prohibit chaining, and the practice is common across the US.
What the law says
In Michigan, the law states that a dog’s tether must measure three times the length of his or her body. That means that Furr, measuring around three feet from snout to tail would be legally allowed nine feet of line to live his entire life. Animal lovers often struggle with the balance between law, safety, and their own sense of right and wrong. There were many reasons why I chose not to call animal control sooner, fear for my own well-being being the most important.
As dog lovers, we want to do the right thing, but the path isn’t always easy. There will be victories and there will be losses. Even the victories may be bitter — devastated children and eventual euthanasia are both possibilities when a dog is removed from a home. I think about Furr and the long Michigan winters. I wish I had acted sooner.
What do you say? Have you been in a similar kind of situation with a neighbor? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.
What you can do: Dogs Deserve Better is an organization that’s dedi-cated to protecting dogs from being chained or tethered. They can use your help in many ways.