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The Active Activist

Castles for Canines to Remedy the Plight of Outdoor Dogs
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

"Dog people" fall into a number of different categories. There are those who become dependent upon their dogs for love, companionship and affection; speaking about them as if they were children, carrying photos in their wallets and inviting, no insisting, that they sleep in the bed with them.

There is another category of dog people who admire dogs for their great beauty, their intelligence, their "conformation" to the ideals of specific breeds. They are the ones who take their dogs to dog shows and get points and trophies, always chasing the dream of the perfect specimen of Rottweiler, German Shepherd Dog or Poodle. They love their dogs very much but in a different way and for different reasons. (I am not excusing or condoning this behavior, just stating a fact.)

The third category is those who take in stray dogs and care little for their aesthetics, colors, coat or pedigree. As long as the dog is friendly, needy and fits in well with the family, their attitude is "What the heck? What's one more dog!" These people are frequently the ones with the three-legged mongrel that came limping into their lives one day. They are also saints and heroes!

As animal activists, most of us fall into the first and third category. But there is another category, a very disturbing one, that those who all of the people in the above categories combined will never, ever understand no matter how often they hear the arguments, the rationalization and the excuses. These are the people who acquire a dog for a variety of reasons, most of them centering around home security, and force them to live outside without the benefit of human interaction and friendship. Those in the first three categories cannot understand how someone who has a dog would not want to be in his or her delightful company twenty-four hours a day, but for some reason, having a dog means having a dog in the yard.

And if we thought long and hard, we could never think of a harsher punishment to mete out to dogs than to banish them to the out of doors, to be chained, fenced or caged in full exposure to the elements but not the human touch. Dogs are pack animals and the modern-day family is their substitute pack.

People send their dogs outside for a variety of reasons. Some people get puppies at shelters or (God forbid) pet stores and then fail to teach them basic manners and obedience. Then, the dogs grow up without any knowledge of how to act around people and are banished to the outdoors, or worse, given up to shelters where nobody wants a frenetic adult dog and they are usually put to sleep. Others make their dogs live outside under a false sense of providing security for their homes. These folks fail to understand that even the most mild mannered of canine will give his or her life to defend his home, his pack, his "den" if threatened. But making a dog live outside does not make them feel like part of the pack and they are more likely to run away in the face of danger than stand and fight.

Forcing a dog to live outside in the hot summer sun, subjected to insects, cruel children who throw things at them and possible theft is an unkind way to treat an animal, but if the dog must live outside, there are some guidelines to make his or her life just a little easier.

So what can the Active Activist do about this?

Well, visiting www.DogsDeserveBetter.com is a great way to get started. You can ask for fliers that can then be distributed to those who you find chaining dogs outside. You can also learn about how to initiate a process to create legislation in your hometown to put a stop to the barbaric practice of banishing dogs to the outdoors.

Or you can do what one Florida animal-welfare group has done, initiate a terrific new program to provide dog houses for people who have dogs living outdoors. Along with a few volunteers to assemble and deliver the dog houses, you can initiate a "Castles for Canines" project in your own community. This is a terrific way to enhance the lives of the dogs who are living outside and unable to get out of the elements. With donated supplies (check Home Depot or ask your local paper if they will run a free ad) you may actually be able to provide these dog houses free of charge to anyone who asks for them for their sterilized dog. (Hook up with a vet or rescue group so you can be ready to provide the sterilization to anyone who expresses a willingness to participate.) The dog houses are two-story luxury models, with a ramp and sun deck and a roomy inside place to hide from the sun and rain.

Or check out the latest copy of Animal People for an ad for dog houses constructed simply of bales of hay and plywood. Simple, cheap and transportable.

Counsel those with outdoor dogs to at least provide a companion for him or her. Dogs are pack animals and need company and socialization to be well adjusted. Encourage them to get their dog a friend from the shelter.

And fight for legislation to prohibit the chaining of a dog to a tree or post. Dogs should have free run of a fenced-in yard. Dogs who are chained up run the risk of becoming aggressive, fearful and psychologically unsound. They can't run away from danger.

Also, educate dog owners about the dangers of heartworms. Heartworms are a debilitating, fatal disease that is easily prevented by giving a once-a-month preventative such as HeartGuard. (Heartworms come from a mosquito bite.) Dogs must have heartworm protection, flea protection and a tag and/or microchip so that if s/he gets under or over the fence and out of your control s/he can find his or her way home. Fleas and ticks cause horrendous itching, rash and even paralysis.

And finally, counsel those with dogs of a long-haired or long-ear variety to please keep them clipped and groomed. Ear infections are excruciatingly painful but prevalent in long-eared dogs, especially those subjected to moisture and heat, as outdoor dogs are.

Check your local statutes to see if there are laws being broken by those who don't comply with rules for keeping animals healthy. I was able to bring charges against a dog owner whose cocker spaniel developed such matting and ear infections that he had to be put down due to the parasites that had inhabited his skin and ears. The "owner" was charged with a felony for failure to render veterinary care.

The best solution is to find a reasonable obedience trainer who is willing to help indigent people for a reduced fee so that dogs can be brought inside where they belong. Dogs and people both deserve the friendship a family dog can provide.

Assemble these points and ideas into an article for your local paper. Your local newspaper may have a special "Pets Section" as does mine, that solicits articles about animals, see if your paper has such a section and get to know the editor. Chances are, they are looking for someone knowledgeable and dependable to write a few articles throughout the year.

If we don't speak up for chained dogs, who will?