For most of us, the new year brings new possibilities and new beginnings. But for dogs who are kept chained, the lyrics of the classic U2 song ring painfully true: "Nothing changes on New Year's Day." For these neglected animals, it's only the beginning of another 12 months of shivering through frigid nights, aching for a friend and watching the world go by, just out of reach.
But there is hope for these animals. January is "Unchain a Dog" Month, and each of us can make all the difference in the world for a cold, lonely dog simply by bringing our canine companions indoors, making them a part of the family and encouraging our neighbors, friends and family members to do the same.
Chaining up a dog like an old bicycle is cruel any time of the year, but leaving "man's best friend" outdoors during freezing temperatures is downright abusive. While their human families stay toasty warm indoors, dogs who are forced to live outdoors shiver through frigid days and even colder nights. Dogs' fur coats are no match for blowing snow and subzero wind chills. Frostbite and hypothermia are very real dangers, and puppies, small dogs, elderly dogs and dogs with short hair are especially at risk.
Many chained dogs have nothing but plastic barrels--which offer little insulation in the winter and become sweltering hot in the summer--or propped-up pieces of plywood for shelter. Instead of cozy straw bedding, many dogs are given old rugs or blankets, which can get wet and freeze, making it even harder for them to stay warm, let alone rest comfortably.
Dehydration is as big a threat in the winter as it is in the summer because dogs' water sources can freeze. And since dogs must burn extra calories to keep warm during cold temperatures, dogs whose guardians don't increase their food rations suffer from constant hunger and can even starve. Some, like Hugo--a pit bull PETA's caseworkers discovered dead in his doghouse on New Year's Day 2008--starve and freeze to death after weeks of neglect. Hugo's necropsy report revealed that his stomach contained nothing but grass and orange peels and that he had a broken rib and suffered from heartworm disease and internal parasites.
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 yearn to go exploring with their guardians, be scratched behind the ears and hear the words "Good dog!" They long to be with their guardians night and day.
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 public safety hazard. It's no wonder that 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.
Why not resolve to make a difference for a chained dog this year? If you know someone with an outside dog, offer to play with the dog and take him or her for walks. Bring treats and toys--they mean so much to a dog who has nothing to do but watch the snow pile up. Make sure that he or she has adequate food, water and shelter--all of which are required by law--and report neglect to authorities. And most importantly, urge the dog's guardian to bring his or her forgotten companion indoors to be with the rest of the family. Your intervention could change everything for a dog in need.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.