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Hamilton considers protections for chained dogs

City officials are considering adding protections for dogs that are chained outside for hours or days on end after a West Side resident told the story of a German Shepherd she sees chained outdoors in mud on a vacant lot between two houses.

Kurt Merbs, supervisor of the dog wardens at the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, which enforces dog issues in Hamilton, said he’d be happy to see the city increase its protection of dogs.

Wanda Chapman told a city legislative committee about “a kind of horrific dog on a chain, in the middle of mud.”

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“He’s just pacing back and forth,” she said, noting the dog is normal weight. “When they’re chained, they’re like us being put in a jail cell: We get antsy, we get nervous, we get scared. And the more scared this dog gets, the more aggressive he gets.”

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When she reported the situation to the county, she was told the owner “is just scraping by the law,” she said. “So he could do nothing to help this dog.”

In another situation, another dog “was left in a little 2-by-3 porch, 24/7, in his own urine and feces, and the dog warden told me there’s no law against that…. I just feel that we should work on addressing helping our dogs a little more.”

After checking into Hamilton’s protections for dogs, “I found that Hamilton’s animal laws are very minute, and I would like to see about addressing that and getting a little stronger law for our little furry friends here in town,” Chapman told the committee.

Kay Farrar, Hamilton’s health director, said it has been about a decade since Hamilton had a dog warden who worked for the health department. The position was cut. Hamilton pays fees for county wardens to do animal control within its boundaries. The city also pays shelter fees to house animals.

Farrar said she would explore how other communities, like Middletown and Cincinnati, which have their own ordinances, handle the situation.

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“Personally, I lost half a lower lip to a tethered dog when I was 44 years old,” Chapman said, “because I went to pet it, and it attacked me, so I went through two years of two major surgeries because of a tethered dog.”

Experts say dogs that are tethered for long periods can become aggressive. One report Chapman found that was produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) quoted an animal-control officer from North Carolina saying 51 percent of dog bites in her community were by dogs that had been chained.

Teresa Chagrin, animal care and control issues manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the national Centers for Disease Control since at least 1979 has recognized tethering as a factor in dog attacks.

“In 1994, a study was published that was partly authored by two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention physicians who found that ‘biting dogs were significantly more likely to be chained,’ and in their study they found chained dogs were 2.8 times more likely to attack than dogs that were not confined in that manner.”

She said the American Veterinary Medical Association advises owners “to never tether or chain your dog because ‘this can contribute to aggressive behavior.’”

PETA tracks attacks by chained dogs, and found 42 attacks by dogs that had been chained, including a tragedy last April in Dayton where an older man was killed.

RELATED: Hamilton man charged with animal cruelty arraigned

Chapman, who researched the issue, said 14 Ohio communities, including Middletown, have laws regulating chaining of dogs.

In Middletown, it’s against the law to tether dogs to a specific point, but they may be attached to a trolley or pulley on a cable run that allows more movement, as long as only one dog is tethered to each cable system; the tether is attached to a properly fitting collar or harness; the tether is at least 15 long; the dog has continuous access to water or shelter; the dog is spayed or neutered; the animal is not chained or tethered for more than 12 straight hours in a 24-hour period. Dogs contained within enclosed areas must have at least 150 square feet of space per dog.

Here are the next steps: Farrar will research the matter, including what other communities do, before the next meeting, on May 16.

“I think it’s a great idea, a great start, to get something on the books,” Merbs said. “Unfortunately for us, we enforce the state code, so if this gets put in on a municipality code or ordinance, we still don’t have the authority to enforce that.”

On the other hand, it may be possible for the city to sign a contract with the sheriff’s office for such enforcement, he said. Without such an agreement police or the health department could handle enforcement, he said.

“Dogs that live on chains, they’re aggressive dogs,” Merbs said. “They become territorial because they are stuck to one position. So if they break that chain, or if they get any sort of chance of freedom, they’re the ones that are going to run out and cause problems.”

“Because they’re so much deprived of human affection and basically every other stimulant, that they’re so bored, those are your issue dogs,” Merbs said.

The best solution would be for state legislation, he said.

As for chaining, “I hate it, because I know the mental side of what it does to these animals. It’s no different than dogs you have living in kennels. It takes a toll on an animals. A lot of these dog bites, and a lot of the dogs that we deal with, a lot of times they come from situations like that, where they’re chained up and that’s all they get,” Merbs said. “And then you have the other ones that are super nice, because someone’s actually paying attention to them.”

“It’s a heartbreaking thing, but it’s the reality,” Merbs added. “Our stance for it is, it’s not against the law, but we’re going to make sure the dog is at least going to be comfortable while it’s out there. We’re going to make sure they’ve got the bedding in their dog houses, and they’ve got the food and the water. We donate toys if people need them. We do all sorts of things like that, to try to enrich, and help out where we can.”

Years ago, Hamilton and the county had a contract, “and it worked out great — they had us trapping cats for them, everything wildlife.”

The county at the time was charging the city $25 per call, but the city, facing financial difficulties, stopped the program.

“Even when chaining is legal, animal neglect is against the law,” Chagrin said. “So if someone has a concern about a dog who is chained, or isn’t chained, in their community, it’s important to report it, and it’s better to be safe than to be sorry. Even if chaining is legal, neglect is not, cruelty is not.”

“Report it to law enforcement, and let them investigate,” she suggests.

“The problem is, when those dogs break off their chains, and they get loose, the whole community is in danger, so it’s not only a horrible life and a terrible thing to do to a dog, but it endangers the community to have these frustrated animals just one chain-link away from a neighborhood child or an elderly person taking their evening walk,” Chagrin said. “So it benefits everyone in the community to outlaw this practice.”

She said when communities put three- or six-hour limits on the chaining, “animal-control officers or police officers don’t have the time to sit. We find those types of ordinances are extremely difficult for law enforcement to enforce. So the best kind of ordinance is one that just completely bans the practice, unless you’re outside with your dog.”

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