Guest Post: Support Senate Bill 5649

Written by Nicki Walters, Pooper Trooper

On Tuesday, February 15, 2011, I was invited to join other animal advocates and representatives from local animal welfare agencies to testify in favor of the Limited Tethering Bill SB 5649 that was heard by the State Senate Judiciary Committee.

My husband and I own a dog waste management service and four years ago we had the unfortunate chance to witness a dog’s friendly disposition deteriorate to fear-based aggression over a few months. He had no access to food or water and his only shelter was a dilapidated dog house with a rotten roof that no longer kept out the elements and a tree-filled rockery hillside where the dog sought refuge, tangling itself regularly.

It became routine for us to untangle him each time we were there and we lived in fear that one day we may find him hanging or choked to death. I tried every way possible to help this dog by way of its owner and then eventually through the involvement of Animal Control. Because of the weak laws in our state and the poor definition of minimum care, nothing could be done to help this dog and it has haunted me ever since. Through this I was awakened to the results of tethering and how poor our laws are.  When we have been witness to other similar situations, I reach out to other organizations such as Dogs Deserve Better and Pasado’s Safe Haven to help these dogs that Animal Control can’t (legally).

The Bill is defined as the Anti-Tethering Bill of which leads many people believe that they will be unable to tether their dog under any circumstance.  This is simply not true and why I call it the “Limited” Tethering Bill. Nowhere in SB 5649 does it state that it is illegal for someone to tether their dog. Instead, it is designed to ensure that a dog will not suffer continuous tethering and be provided with acceptable care.  It also gives both Animal Control and law enforcement a tool in which to investigate, educate and act upon situations of safety concern, neglect or any other criminal activity that seem to revolve around dog tethering.

According to the proposed legislation, an owner may be charged with unlawful tethering if the owner leaves the dog restrained or tied outside by use of a tether, chain, rope, cord, pulley, trolley system or other device between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am;

– Or for more than 10 hours consecutively, or more than 10 hours within any 24 hour period.

– During any declared weather advisories, warnings or emergencies for the dog’s location.

– In a manner that does not allow the dog to have access to necessary shelter at a time during which temperatures fall below 40 degrees or above 85 degrees, when there is precipitation including rain, hail, sleet or snow.

– In a manner that prevents the dog from lying, sitting or standing comfortably without the restraint becoming taut.

– In a manner that results in the dog becoming entangled on the restraint or another object.

– In a manner that causes injury to the dog to include the use of an unsafe collar system such as pinch and choke collars attached to the tether system.

– In a manner where a dog does not have access to water or food on a regular basis.

– In a manner that results in the dog being left in unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

    The first violation will result in a written notice of warning and the owner will have 48 hours to remedy the situation. A second violation or failure to comply with the first  violation within 48 hours will result in a class civil infraction. A third and subsequent violations are misdemeanors. There are also exemptions detailed in regards to temporary situations for veterinary situations and certain working dog situations as sled dogs that are taken off their tethers to run and exercise regularly.

    There were a total of 16 people who registered to testify however only seven were given the privilege to do so. Senator Adam Kline held chair and allowed for four testimonies in favor that were followed with the only three opposing testimonies. Senator Nick Harper is the sponsor for this Bill and faced objections reiterating that this is a more than fair and moderate approach to dog tethering meant to educate owners and prevent neglect for the dogs. His comments were backed up in favor by Senator Kline in stating that this law affords us to address the lowest denominator of dog care and set a reasonable standard.

    Favor was also given by Senator Michael Carrell who is supporting another animal cruelty Bill 5065 that I had not previously heard of.  SB 5065 revises animal cruelty provisions by expanding the definition of necessary food, water and shelter to more closely meet the needs of and sustain animals. Knowing that there were two Bills of this nature in legislation just proves further the need for better animal laws in Washington.

    The four testimonies in favor of SB 5649 were given by Debra Eurich, the Thurston County Prosecutor, Claire Davis a Seattle lawyer who wrote the Bill and worked formally for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kim Koon the cruelty investigator for Pasado’s Safe Haven and Sam Peterson a trainer at the Academy of Canine Behavior who specializes in aggression.  All testimonies were strong on facts with regard to the behavior deterioration of dogs who suffer from continuous tethering in addition to substantiating the lack of care that is customary with most tethered dogs. They also spoke to the tie between criminal activity and tethered dogs. This Bill would provide both Animal Control and law enforcement a tool to investigate cruelty in addition to criminal activity and act upon them whereas today their hands are tied by loop holes and weak laws.

    I was disappointed when Cheryl Pflug, Pam Roach and Jim Hargrove expressed their concerns for the Bill reasoning that some of the wording was ambiguous. In addition, they didn’t seem to understand that the Bill condones tethering, just with humane limitations.  Their arguments stemmed from the differences in rural communities versus urban. Other concerns included who would dictate the weather conditions, the interpretations of neighbors and with the exemptions citing that everyone should be held to the same standards. It seemed they didn’t consider the vulnerability, neglect or abuse tethered dogs suffer. It became more of a conversation about free-roaming dogs and road safety which served more of a distraction to this process.

    There were three testimonies given in opposition to the Bill, a surprising one being Diane Jessup, a retired Animal Control Officer. Even with her years of experience in animal control, she did not agree with any condition in regards to tethering and felt it was covered with current animal laws. Shocking, considering she surely witnessed horrific situations in her experience, however she denied that dogs suffer at the end of a tether. She admitted that she tethers her dogs however when the members of the committee asked if she could recommend revisions to SB 5649, she had nothing constructive to offer. This led me to believe that her dogs spend a majority of their time on a tether explaining her defensive approach to this Bill. Her opposing argument was based on that she feels crating is cruel and this law would incite people to begin crating their dogs for long periods of time even though the Bill clearly states that a person may tether their dog — it just sets reasonable limits in doing so.  The other two opposed testimonies from the Stockman’s Coalition and a Veterinarian from Centralia who has been in practice for 43 years. Both of their arguments were based more on agricultural differences in dog ownership, one stating that, “Not all dogs have a career as a pet.”

    The hearing was wrapped up at the end of the opposition statements, leaving nine of us disappointed we didn’t give our testimonies. They missed out on hearing from organizations such as the local chapter of Dogs Deserve Better, the Olympic Animal Sanctuary, myself representing Pooper Trooper and many other people who had personal testimony from witnessing tethering instances. All of us would have offered valuable experience, knowledge and examples to support this Bill and rebut the opposing statements.

    As it stands now, we are told that it is looking positive for SB 5649 to be passed out of the Senate Committee and into the House where this Bill has great sponsorship. It will be revised a bit to address the ambiguous wording and perhaps the exclusions will be examined further. We have high hopes that this will be the start to a better existence for the tethered dogs of Washington.

    The committee members need to hear from you about this Limited Tethering Bill SB 5649. Please take a moment to call or write and express your approval of this Bill as it needs to be passed by February 23 in order to make it into this year’s legislative session.

    To contact Washington State Senate Judiciary members and staff, click here.

    To read the Bill in its entirety, click here.

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    One Response to Guest Post: Support Senate Bill 5649

    1. Nicki says:

      Sadly the Bill did not get passed through the House due to timing. It is on the agenda for 2012. Many people worked very hard to get this on the books for 2011. This is a sad delay for many suffering dogs but those working on this bill are relentless and will do all they can to get it through in 2012.

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