Can you believe some people still tether their dogs? If you're like me you don't have to suspend disbelief. The evidence is incontrovertible--you can see it as you pass through neighbrhoods with small yards and incomplete fencing.

Dogs there are tied to trees or staked to a makeshift doghouse. They bark non-stop at anyone who walks past, lunging against their collars, rattling their chains.

In Miami-Dade County the practice is legal. Here's my attempt to inject some awareness into the local mentality, as submitted to The Miami Herald for last Sunday's "Dr. Dolittler" column.

Break the chain! Don’t tether your dog!

Tethering pets has long been a hot button issue for animal welfare advocates across the United States. Several states and a myriad of municipalities have outlawed this practice in which dogs are chained to stakes or otherwise “tethered” to a fixed location out of doors.

Given that constant tethering has been shown to be physically and psychologically damaging to dogs (far more so than crating, penning or allowing to run while connected to an overhead line), the issue has finally come before the Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners’ Public Health and Safety Committee via the County’s Animal Services department.

Chained dogs have never been a pretty sight for any pet lover. Dogs housed like this are physically at risk for a variety of reasons: They strain at their collars, often resulting in devastating neck wounds. They’re exposed to extremes of tropical heat, which is especially debilitating when owners fail to provide adequate shade and water. They’re also subject to the risk of attack by other dogs and a prime target for neighbors’ ire should their barking become problematic.

I’d bark, too! These pets are literally starved for attention. Dogs are social animals for whom the isolation inherent to constant tethering is psychologically damaging. Indeed, dogs thus abused have been shown to be 2.8 times more likely to bite than the average dog. This demonstration of unsociability is only one of the many ways these dogs may express their serious deprivation of normal socialization.

In 1996, The United States Department of Agriculture said, “Our experience in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act has led us to conclude that continuous confinement of dogs by a tether is inhumane.”

In 2003, The American Veterinary Medical Association said, “Never tether or chain your dog because this can contribute to aggressive behavior.”

I could not agree more. South Florida doesn’t need more biting, barking, socially unstable, physically and psychologically abused animals.

Already adopted in Ft. Lauderdale, this anti-tethering ordinance will soon be submitted to Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners’ Public Health and Safety Committee for their consideration. Dr. Sara Pizano, the director of Miami-Dade Animal Services, is hot on the trail of a victory on this issue.

A petition is currently being circulated by a variety of animal welfare groups in the area to help promote this item’s implementation. If you have an interest in signing one or otherwise contributing your voice to this cause, please contact Protect Children & Dogs in Miami-Dade online at [email protected] or by phone at 305-282-3527.

Like it? Here's one more for you, a position statement I'm hoping our South Florida Veterinary Medical Association will soon ratify:

Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners’ Public Health and Safety Committee:

Tethering, the act of confining an animal to a fixed location with a collar and line, is an inappropriate method of confinement for dogs. As representatives of the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association, we disavow this practice on the grounds that it is inhumane. Tethering is not only unsafe for dogs due to collar injuries and exposure-related illness but has also been shown to increase aggression in pets maintained under these conditions. In 1996, The United States Department of Agriculture said, “Our experience in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act has led us to conclude that continuous confinement of dogs by a tether is inhumane.” In 2003, The American Veterinary Medical Association said, “Never tether or chain your dog because this can contribute to aggressive behavior.”Miami-Dade should enact legislation to reflect the prevailing wisdom on this issue and the values of its local veterinary community.

I'm fairly certain that some version of my language will be accepted by the SFVMA's board members so that we can contribute meaningfully to the local discourse. Stay tuned for my position statement on HB 101, the bill that mkes it easier to enact more breed bans throughout Florida.