Tethering ordinance underway in Gadsden

January 24, 2020 chris
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Photo: Pictured above, local animal advocate Christi Brown (left) partners with Gadsden City Councilman Ben Reed (right) to develop an ordinance to ban inhumane tethering citywide. 

Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer

An upcoming tethering ordinance will affect Gadsden residents and pets soon, addressing an issue that has afflicted the city for years. The new tethering ordinance will replace Gadsden’s current animal cruelty regulation that states that no resident can “Restrain an animal with a leash or humane restraining device that is less than eight feet long, unless walking or training such animal.”

Gadsden City Council President Pro Tempore, Chairman of Public Safety Committee and District 7 representative Ben Reed discussed the preparations that the council underwent to develop the ordinance. Drawing from an ordinance in Athens that enforces zero-tethering and an oridinance in Huntsville that enforces zero-tethering with an amendment to trolley systems, Gadsden is in the process of creating an ordinance of its own.

“[The tethering ordinance] is something that has already been put through the public safety committee which I chair,” said Reed. “We’ll have a look at all of it, put it all together and then we’ll present it to the council. I’m hoping next week we’ll have it.”

On Tuesday Jan. 28, the council will vote on the ordinance to determine if either zero-tethering will pass or trolley systems will be allowed. Throughout the development process, Reed collaborated with local animal advocates in Gadsden, listening to their concerns and gaining a complete perspective on the impact the ordinance will create. One of Reed’s main partners in developing the ordinance was Christi Brown, whose past experience and vast knowledge of animals provided evaluations of the ordinance’s potential outcomes.

“Christi and I started back about two or three years ago,” Reed said. “Christi is the kicker.”

The term “tethering” refers to the inhumane practice of securing a dog to a stationary object, typically with a rope, chain or other form of restraint. When tethered, the animal is confined to a limited area and left unattended, without movability. Alternate forms of tethering such as pulley runs or cable systems require pet owners to attach their dog’s collar (with accompanying type of leash) to the pulley run or cable system, allowing the dog a greater area to explore, run and move. Tethering does not refer to animals who are walked regularly on leashes while their owner is present.

Dogs are pack animals who require interaction with humans or other animals. Tethering dogs removes them from their pack and forces them to live their lives without needed socialization. In nature, all packs have an alpha who leads the social unit and when tethered, dogs are separated from the individual they recognize as the alpha. Removal from this authority figure, combined with a lack of social interaction, often results in dogs who become neurotic, unhappy and anxious. Because tethered dogs are removed from their alpha and drained of socialization, they do not learn proper social skills. In dogs, a lack of social skills leads to behavioral issues like aggression, due to a dog’s natural instinct to protect its territory. Without the ability to run from a perceived threat, tethered dogs will often react aggressively to protect themselves because they are left with no other choice.

Tethered dogs endure the risk of exposure to extreme weather conditions, since many tethered dogs also do not have access to appropriate housing. Frigid or sweltering temperatures pose threats to animals’ safety as these pets typically do not receive proper shelter from storms or heat and often live with irregular feedings or limited access to clean drinking water or food. Despite this harsh reality, Brown believes that the weather should never determine how loudly advocates speak for animals.

“Everyone gets wound up with it’s 14 degrees outside,” Brown said. “The last concern a dog living on a chain has is how cold they’re going to get tonight. Every night is a crisis for them because they are not with their pack.”

Brown understands that there are some breeds, like huskies, that love cold weather and enjoy playing in the snow. Her concern does not dwell with elemental exposure as much as tethered dogs’ separation from their families—a dog’s separation from its pack breaks down its natural understanding of social structure, leaving an animal just trying to survive. A tethering ordinance for those animals, while freeing them from a cruel livelihood, also serves as a potential danger.

When a zero-tolerance tethering ordinance is passed and enforced, tethered pet owners are forced to make a quick decision. To avoid paying a ticket, tethered pet owners can research alternate methods of housing their dogs, such as building a fence. However, for pet owners who cannot afford to build fences or pay tickets, families living on rental property where they are not allowed to build structures, senior citizens who are physically unable to walk their pets or individuals temporarily housing a relative or friend’s dog, a zero-tolerance tethering ordinance means that their dogs might end up in shelters, since there is no other option.

Councilman Reed is aware of this scenario and is acting to avoid overcrowding in local shelters. He ensures that if a zero-tolerance ordinance passes, there will be a grace period to allow owners time to create proper living conditions for their pets. Brown knows that despite the grace period, which could last up to 60 days, procrastination is unacceptable.

“Fast-forward to an ordinance going into effect,” she said. “You have an animal that’s lived its whole life tethered. Now their family has to either come up with a scenario or surrender it to a local shelter. That dog who has lived its life on a chain has no social skills, he was never a pack member. Now, he gets relocated from his home to a situation where everything is strange—compounded with no social skills—that dog is not adoptable.”

Brown states that in some circumstances, rehabilitation programs are available to teach dogs socialization and reintroduce them into pack mentality, but animal advocates rarely have the space, funds or time needed to rehabilitate those animals because they are dealing with 15 to 20 more of the same scenario day after day. For tethered pet owners who wish to prevent this ending becoming a reality for their dogs, education and preparation is crucial.

If a humane tethering ordinance is passed as was done in Huntsville, the regulations will eradicate tethering through either ropes or chains but allow cable and pulley or trolley systems. Humane tethering systems are typically cheaper than fences, averaging around $22 and are relatively simple to install, providing animals with more mobility, extended freedom and reduced chances of tangling than inhumane tethering restrictions.

“There are pros and cons to both [tethering ordinances],” Brown said. “But I think that we can agree 100 percent, whether you are for no tethering or humane tethering, the current tethering conditions our city has dealt with cannot and will not be tolerated. This conversation has been a long time coming and is way past due.”

While undoubtedly dogs will be impacted positively in certain areas of Gadsden, residents must consider the reality of the impending situation. Brown urges residents to develop a plan for either outcome and begin preparations now. Whether preparations include planning for alternate living arrangements, creating proper housing (such as building fences or dog appropriate dog houses) or acclimating pets to humane living situations, postponing action is not an option. Residents must get involved immediately.

“Whatever they decide, you have a couple options,” Brown said. “You can be proactive, do your homework, educate yourself and be a voice through your city council member and create a supportive conversation with them to express your concerns. Don’t wait until the grace period. Reach out and find out if there are any resources available.”

Brown encourages a positive relationship with residents and their elected officials, who work to improve Gadsden and create living situations that benefit both humans and animals. Residents must inform themselves on Gadsden’s current developments, so that when ordinances like zero-tolerance or humane tethering pass, no one suffers from being caught unaware or off-guard. Rather than find themselves in uncomfortable or difficult situations, through education and preparation, residents can get involved and become proactive citizens who as individuals perform the necessary actions to change their circumstances and city for the better.

“You might be surprised how much help you could get if you just asked,” Brown said. “In the meantime [before the tethering ordinance vote], educate yourself, read up on [tethering] and prepare for either scenario. Call your council member, that’s what they’re here for.”

If any Gadsden residents wish to contact their city council representative but are unaware of who oversees their district, they can visit My Local Representatives to find out more information about their current elected officials. After clicking the My Local Representatives link on either Facebook or The Messenger website, residents can type in their address and will receive information on who represents their district. Once they know which council member to contact, residents can take the next step necessary to reach out for assistance, conduct a supportive and appropriate discussion or express their comments and concerns. For those unable to visit My Local Representatives, residents may also call 256-549-4518 to find out their district and what council member they should contact.

Despite the positive and negative aspects of a zero-tethering ordinance or a humane tethering ordinance, Brown understands that there are responsible pet owners who utilize short-term tethering due to physical and financial limitations or dwelling restrictions who will be affected by the council’s vote. Regardless of the outcome, Brown hopes for the best possible solution to an issue that must be resolved to ensure the betterment of Gadsden residents and animals alike.

“While this effort to end permanent chaining was initiated several years ago, we embrace a positive outcome,” said Brown. “With any change comes a learning curve, which makes a grace period crucial for its success. There are many moving parts to this change, so we must support one another, educate our neighbors and trust our leaders to make the most humane decision for the animals it will impact. A life on a chain for a pack animal is no life at all.”

Link for My Local Representatives: https://coggis.cityofgadsden.com/portal/apps/InformationLookup/index.html?appid=0e4bd692d34946d4b8f01e013c21216c&location=-9575240.676419364%2C4029215.8753324337