Hope for Tethered Dogs
On Wednesday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill that enacts health and safety standards and limits for tethered dogs. Washington state doesn’t currently have animal cruelty standards or penalties for tethered dogs. The new statute would allow animal care and control officers to issue warnings or civil infractions for inhumane animal tethering.
Under the new law, owners can’t tether their dogs for a reckless period of time. In addition, tethered dogs must have access to food and water, protection from extreme weather and the ability to move about without becoming tangled.
“We heard the heartbreaking stories of Coffee, Kingston and Hershey, who faced terrible abuse and neglect while tied up at their home,” said Senator Joe Fain (R), the bill’s sponsor. “These dogs were without water, forced to sleep in their own waste and tied up permanently to the point the collar became embedded in their neck. With the new law animal officers can step in much earlier to prevent tragedy.”
The bill, SSB 5356 passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives. The Senate passed it by a vote of 68-28.
Here are the specifics of the new law:
(1) Any dog that is restrained outside by a tether must only be restrained for a period of time that is not reckless and in compliance with this section.
(a) The dog shall not be tethered in a manner that results, or could reasonably result, in the dog becoming frequently entangled on the restraint or another object.
(b) If there are multiple dogs tethered, each dog must be on a separate tether and not secured to the same fixed point.
(c) The tether must allow the dog to sit, lie down, and stand comfortably without the restraint becoming taut and allow the dog a range of movement.
(d) A dog shall not be tethered if it is ill, suffering from a debilitating disease, injured, in distress, in the advanced stages of pregnancy, or under six months of age.
(e) A tethered dog must have access to clean water and necessary shelter that is safe and protective while tethered. The shelter and water vessel must be constructed or attached in such a way that the dog cannot knock over the shelter or water vessel.
(f) A dog shall not be tethered in a manner that results in the dog being left in unsafe or unsanitary conditions or that forces the dog to stand, sit, or lie down in its own excrement or urine.
(g) A dog shall not be tethered by means of a choke, pinch, slip, halter, or prong-type collar, or by any means other than with a properly fitted buckle-type collar or harness that provides enough room between the collar or harness and the dog’s throat to allow normal breathing and swallowing.
(h) The weight of the tether shall not unreasonably inhibit the free movement of the dog within the area allowed by the length of the tether.
(i) The dog shall not be tethered in a manner that causes the dog injury or pain.
Huge Step Forward
This law is a huge step forward in the effort to protect Washington dogs. Officers now have the authority to take action if someone reports a dog that’s tethered inhumanely.
Ideally, the Legislature should ban tethering dogs altogether.
Unfortunately, the political reality is that rural legislators representing constituents who tether their dogs block any bill to ban tethering.
My biggest concern about the law is that it contains vague language that can be interpreted in different ways.
An animal control officer in Yakima will probably have a different idea of what constitutes “a reasonable time that is not reckless” than an animal control officer in Bellevue.
Washington already has jurisdictions that turn a blind eye to animal cruelty. They will probably ignore the new tethering law as well.
But regardless of its flaws, and all laws have them, the new law is a net benefit for tethered dogs in Washington as it gives responsible, conscientious animal control officers like those at Joint Animal Services in Thurston County or the Seattle Animal Shelter another tool to hold irresponsible dog owners accountable for mistreating their dogs.
Many thanks to the many individuals and groups who worked tirelessly for years to convince the Legislature to legislation to protect tethered dogs. In particular, I’d like to thank Senator Joe Fain, The Washington Federation of Animal Care & Control Agencies, The Humane Society of the United States – Washington, and Officer Erika Johnson from Joint Animal Services in Thurston County for their leadership on the campaign to pass this important piece of legislation.
Washington is the 21st state, along with the District of Columbia, to have some sort specific animal tethering laws in place.