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Declare dog Independence Day

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This Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate their freedom with picnics, trips to the beach and time spent with the people they love. But America isn't a free country for everyone who lives here. In nearly every community-perhaps even on your own street-Americans' best friends, our dogs, are kept chained and deprived of every freedom.

These dogs will spend our nation's birthday as they spend every other day: pacing their tiny patch of dirt, panting in the heat, wishing for companionship or a drink of cool water and watching the world go by out of their reach. The only difference is that many will spend this night terrorized and trembling in fear because of the booming fireworks.

"Out of sight, out of mind" in the back yard, many chained dogs are deprived of even their basic needs and rights. "Dinner" might consist of kibble tossed on the same soggy ground where they must relieve themselves, table scraps or nothing at all, if their guardian forgets or doesn't feel like walking outside to feed them. Green, algae-contaminated water is all that many chained dogs have to drink, and if their chain knocks over the water container, they go thirsty.

Plastic barrels, which offer little insulation in the winter and are sweltering in the summer, are "home" to many chained dogs. Others have nothing but the tree that they're tied to or a propped-up piece of plywood to huddle under during storms. Veterinary care is often nonexistent for these dogs, and they routinely suffer and die from preventable conditions including internal parasites and heartworm disease. They itch continually from flea bites, and the flies who are attracted to their waste eat them alive and bite their ears bloody.

With no escape from the elements, other animals or cruel people, dogs often die on the end of their chains. Some, like Hugo-a pit bull PETA's caseworkers discovered dead in his doghouse on New Year's Day-starve and freeze to death after weeks of neglect. Others have been stung to death by swarms of bees; killed by coyotes or roaming dogs; or beaten, poisoned or doused with gasoline and set on fire by cruel passersby.

Perhaps even crueler than the physical hardships that chained dogs endure are the emotional ones. As highly social pack animals, dogs need and crave the companionship of their human guardians and other dogs. They long to please their guardians and go exploring with them. They yearn to be scratched behind the ears and hear the words "Good dog!" Like us, dogs also get bored and need exercise and something interesting to do. They need to read the "news" on fire hydrants, catch Frisbees and go for long walks every day. On a chain, dogs receive none of the things that make their lives worth living, and many of them become severely depressed or even go mad and become a danger to the community.

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It's no wonder that chained dogs often lash out. Dogs are territorial, and confining them to small spaces only makes them more so. To a dog with no way to escape, even a harmless toddler who wanders onto his or her turf may be perceived as a threat. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, chained dogs are nearly three times more likely to attack than are dogs who are not tethered. Another study found that more than one-quarter of fatal dog attacks involve chained dogs. Dogs' lack of freedom isn't just an animal welfare issue-it's also a serious public safety concern.

So before we slice the watermelon and light the sparklers this Fourth of July, let's make it a true Independence Day for everyone by speaking up for those who have no freedom. Urge your friends, family and neighbors to unchain their dogs. Work to get a dog-tethering ban passed in your community. And if your own dogs are chained, please give them their freedom: Bring them indoors and let them be a part of your family.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with more than 3 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer (more...)

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