Anti-tethering ordinances and dog welfare: The poverty argument
Just two months ago Miami-Dade County (where I reside) approved an ordinance that would ban the chronic use of tethering (chaining or otherwise confining a dog via tether) as a way of “housing” dogs. But it didn’t happen without a fight, one which the welfare-minded residents of neighboring Broward County are now up against.
In spite of some reasonable arguments in support of the occasional, judicious use of tethers for dogs (when supervised), I absolutely supported this proposal, which specifically banned tethering as a chronically-applied, absentee-owner measure.
The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) agrees with me, as do a host of moderate animal welfare organizations. Considering the conventional wisdom (along with some research), which convincingly preaches that dogs housed on tethers are poorly socialized and are far more likely to become aggressive when kept tied to a fixed site, banning tethering seems like a no-brainer.
But Miami-Dade’s County Commission put up a last-minute roadblock to the ordinance both Miami-Dade County Animal Services and the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association fully supported:
What about the poor? Does this law punish those who cannot afford fencing? What about those who can’t afford alarm systems? Perhaps we should table the whole thing.
The final-hour, socioeconomic lament was as unexpected as it was unwelcome by those of us who had already canvassed the Commission and unearthed no major stumbling blocks.
The poverty argument was even more odious to me, as a long-time Miami-Dade resident who argued unsuccessfully, twenty-plus years ago, that our county’s pit bull ban was unfair and inhumane based partly on its socioeconomic bias (an argument that earned me blank stares back then, despite its now well-accepted validity).
But when it comes to tethering, it’s OK to concern ourselves with our residents’ pet pocketbook issues because, as the story goes, how could we expect some people to keep dogs if they can’t tie them up? By the way, it’s this lame contention that’s reportedly keeping Broward County from acting on a similar proposal.
No matter that the keeping of dogs in the manner this ordinance specifies (unsupervised) is unfair to the animals—let’s concern ourselves with what their owners need. If their owners are unable to feed them properly because kibble costs too much should we also grant them license to starve their pets?
As it is, our society does not require its citizens to provide regular medical care for their pets. Is it asking too much to require that they NOT chain them? After all, food water and shelter are still considered the three basic necessities from an animal welfare point of view, with socialization coming in a close fourth.
Of course it’s true that those with less to spend are those who most often tether their pets. But is it a matter of income…or ignorance? How much does it really cost to keep a dog enclosed in a shelter? Is an anti-tethering law truly punishing those who require a greater degree of protection for their properties in lieu of fencing?
It’s also true that those in low-income, inner city neighborhoods are those who would choose pit bulls for their brand of personal protection. These are the pit-keepers who have driven municipalities to ban the breed. Their socioeconomic status, however, is typically deemed irrelevant…because public safety is concerned. The poverty argument gets cast aside when what’s deemed “the greater good” is in play.
Too bad “the greater good” doesn’t always apply to those who would bear the brunt of garden-variety ignorance when municipalities advance “socioeconomic issues” as a thinly veiled defense for blatant animal abuse.