We’re talking about “man’s best friend”—show them the love they deserve.
It’s Sunday night, and I’ve gone semi-horizontal. The rain is rolling in, but I’m warm and dry. The cat’s on my chest, doing her best impression of a loaf of bread. The little dog is next to me, tucked up tight. The not-so-little dog is stretched out next to the recliner.
For us, life is good. But right now, I can’t stop thinking about the dog I met this morning.
While some people were settling in with the newspaper and a cup of coffee, I was in a van with my colleague at PETA, crisscrossing a corner of southeast Virginia looking for dogs who needed some TLC.
We found one on the first stop.
The elderly man who answered the door was glad to see us and to give us carte blanche to help his pup. Go on back, he said, and yes, she’s friendly. He wasn’t kidding. Although her pen was filthy, her food dispenser was empty, and her water bucket had things growing in it, she jumped for joy as we approached.
First things first: tummy rubs, a scratch on the chin, more tummy rubs, another scratch on the chin.
We spent close to an hour there. After shoveling the waste and chewed-up pie pans out of her pen, we put down fresh straw and stuffed more straw into the doghouse. We hauled out that filthy water bucket and replaced it with a new one filled with fresh water. She got a nice meal, a new collar, and a plush toy that squeaked when she bit it. She got a chance to feel love and warmth and, for that moment, to know that she wasn’t just an afterthought, stuck in the backyard out of sight and out of mind, that somebody cared. We left more food and straw at the house.
As we got ready to leave, I watched her nosing around the straw, choosing the right spots for burying the treats we’d given her. I was dirty and sweaty but felt good. Really good.
She’s been on my mind ever since—she and the countless others like her, sitting out there in filthy pens or at the end of a miserable chain suffering from benign and not-so-benign neglect.
Things that until recently, were unimaginable to me are actually commonplace—dogs chained to the bumpers of junked cars or suffering from flystrike so severe that the tips of their ears have been eaten away or from untreated mange, heartworms, broken bones, or infected wounds. One dog in North Carolina who was rescued by PETA had a chain wrapped around her neck so tightly that it was embedded in her flesh, causing a bloody wound. She was nursed back to health, got a whole lot of love, and finally found a loving new home in Maryland.
Keeping dogs chained leaves them susceptible to suffocating heat and bone-chilling cold. It also makes them vulnerable to predators—including cruel humans, who have been known to shoot, poison, set on fire, and torture chained dogs in countless other ways.
These miserable dogs often bark and howl because they’re lonely and frustrated. Chaining can also make them aggressive. Confined to such a small space, they can become territorial, injuring and even killing children or anyone else who might wander too close. Dogs who are well socialized are appropriately protective without being dangerous.
Dogs don’t ask for much: nice long walks, a comfortable place to sleep, a full dinner bowl, and, above all, the companionship of a loving, attentive guardian. Solitary confinement is no way to treat our best friends. And no matter how many hours my colleagues and I spend in the field, we can’t get to them all to provide even the basics—water, food, and a clean place to lie down.
But there are solutions:
We can ban chaining. We can spay and neuter—there are already countless homeless dogs languishing in shelters. And we can adopt from shelters and refuse to support breeders and puppy mills by buying from pet stores.
It’s heartbreaking to think of that sweet dog we helped today and how excited she was to be given even a few moments of attention. I think about her—outside and all alone in the dark—while my cat, Jingles, and my dogs, Max and Turk, curl up beside me with the rain rolling in.
I take comfort, though, in knowing that I made a difference for one lonely dog.
You can make a difference, too. If chaining dogs is legal where you live, work with your legislators to get it banned. If you see a dog in distress, call the authorities. And if they don’t respond, call PETA.
Dogs are our best friends. Let’s treat them accordingly.
Photo Credit: Getty Images