Dixie, a bulldog mix puppy he rescued from a vacant home, chews up the floor. His adult dog, an 85-pound pit bull his daughter named Boy, is a perfectly behaved house dog but has horrible gas. So Findley keeps the dogs tethered to runs set up on either side of his house.
But the Anniston City Council is looking at ways to curb tethering of dogs in the city, which some say is associated with neglect and increased aggression in animals.
After more than an hour spent with residents and animal advocates discussing the best way to regulate dogs in Anniston, the City Council came to no resolution on how to move forward with the ordinance Councilwoman Millie Harris proposed last week to prohibit tethering unattended animals.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart suggested the City Council let a task force made up of residents and city officials, including Animal Control Officer Bea Vedovato, examine the possibilities for local laws governing dogs and other animals in the city. He also suggested City Attorney Bruce Downey perform a review of all the city laws governing pets that are already on the books and examine the enforcement of those ordinances.
“We’ve got to know where we are now to figure out where we’re going,” he said.
Findley’s home was visited last week by animal control officers after a concerned passerby called about the dogs he had tethered in his yard.
He said the rescued puppy continues to recover from mange with medicine, but both of the dogs are well cared for, with access to shelter and water and someone at home with them at all times.
“What’s worse, letting a dog outside where it can get in the shade and play and run around or leave it locked in the house whining and waiting for the owner to come home and let it out?” Findley asked, noting that not all dogs are meant to be house dogs.
Vedovato said she and her partner had to give the dogs clean water and also warned about their fly-bitten ears.
While some expressed concern that certain dogs will be difficult to contain without chains, Vedovato said she more often sees tethered dogs break their restraints and run after people. She said the city has seen more than 70 dog bites in the past two years.
Mindy Gilbert, the Alabama state director for the Humane Society of the United States, spoke to the council about her organization’s support for anti-tethering laws.
“Animals are not more important than people, but animals are very important to people,” she said.
In 2012 68 percent, or 82.5 million, of American households own at least one pet, including 83.3 million dogs, Gilbert said, referencing the National Pet Owner Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association.
Gilbert said using tethering as means of continuous containment for animals is considered by many organizations to be inhumane due to the potential for injury from cords, lack of protection from predators and vulnerability to theft.
Tim Brunson, a local hypnotherapist, told the council that continuously tethered dogs are at a higher risk for a deficiency of oxytocin, a hormone whose release is connected to nurturing. He said a deficit of oxytocin can make an animal’s stress trigger higher.
He also noted the effect tethering has on animals’ fight or flight response.
“When you’re in a threatening environment, you need a place of sanctuary. Chained dogs don’t have that,” he said.
Telesa Stanford, a member of the city’s task force on animals, said she is concerned about what might happen if the ordinance proposed last week passes. She said she worried that dogs who have been chained and may now be more prone to aggression will be taken inside and pose a threat to their owners and their children.
Stanford also said if the ordinance is aimed at curbing neglect, the chain may not be the biggest problem.
“If it’s about how the dog is being treated, if those dogs that are on chains are not being properly cared for, unchaining those dogs is not automatically going to make the dog owners take care of their dogs,” she said.
Kumira Lemon, a task force member from Ward 3, said chained dogs in her neighborhood bark and run at passersby. She said she’s afraid that if they are unchained, they may attack neighbors.
“I see people walking with sticks, and they walk with sticks because of dogs, because they’re afraid they may attack them,” she said.
Ronald McLester, a Moore Avenue resident, said he’s been raising pit bulls since he was a child.
“My dogs are loving dogs, and they stay on chains,” he said.
Councilman David Reddick said he’d prefer to see the City Council move more slowly on the issue, changing laws gradually rather than passing a comprehensive ordinance. He suggested the city use public service announcements to help educate pet owners about their responsibilities to their pets.
Harris also mentioned the possibility of crafting an ordinance that will grandfather current pets whose owners currently keep them on chains but prohibit it for any animals moving forward.
Harris said she is open to changes because she wants to craft an ordinance for this community that will last.
“Personally, I feel that it’s really wrong,” Harris said of tethering, “but I want to figure this out.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.