The Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday to strengthen protections for man’s furry friend by changing how dogs can be restrained outdoors.
If signed into law by the County Executive, pet owners could no longer secure their dogs outside to a stationary object for longer than two hours in any 12-hour period, according to the legislation sponsored by Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-Huntington Station).
The law also places length and weight restrictions on the types of chains and collars used. A tether no less than 10 feet in length weighing no more than 25 percent of the dogs total body weight can be used.
“We had a law on the books and what I did was amend it to make it much clearer,” Mr. D’Amaro said. “We had to beef up the law.”
“Some of the abuse that I have seen is really unbelievable,” he said. “Most people love their pets, but some people, for example, put them outside for prolonged period in the dead of winter with heavy heavy chains,” he said. “This will give law enforcement the tool it needs to make sure dogs aren’t being neglected.”
Animal rights organizations, including Unchained New York, brought in chains that had been used, and photos of animals who were abused to show the legislators prior to the vote, Mr. D’Amaro said.
Violators will incur a $500 fine, he said
Gillian Wood Pultz, executive director of the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which runs shelters in Riverhead and Southold towns, said the goal is for animals to be off chains and tethers and kept instead in a fenced-in area or be provided exercise some other way.
“Chains are not that safe,” Ms. Wood Pultz said. “We get complaints all the time at both shelters from concerned citizens reporting that dogs are chained up, tangled or wrapped around a tree and stuck in the beating sun or away from food.”
As animals become tangled or stuck, they may hurt themselves in an attempt to break free, she said, adding that neck and back injures are common among dogs who are chained on heavy chains for long periods of time.
“If you’re going to tether them up outside, they really should be wearing safety harness,” she said.
Dr. Robert Pisciotta, a veterinarian at North Fork Animal Hospital in Southold and Shelter Island, offered a simple solution: take dogs to a dog park or for a walk, “which is good for their owners too,” he said.
“Anytime a dog is tied up outside and left unattended, there is potential for injury,” he said. “In the summer if it gets too hot you have to worry about heat stroke. There is also the potential they can get off of the tether.”
Both Dr. Pisciotta and Ms. Wood Pultz said they would be concerned if the new law leads to dogs being cooped up in kennels rather than outside and unable to get regular exercise.
“I would be nervous about a dog being left inside in a crate in the basement because he can’t be left outside,” she said, “but inside in the basement is safer then being left outside on a chain. Not just [the possibility of] getting tangled up and choked, but if a dog is on a chain he is also vulnerable to attack from other animals.”
Despite the potential downfall, she said “it’s a great step in the right direction, that legislators are looking for a way to protect our domestic animals.”
Mr. D’Amaro said that animal rights activists can help to enforce the new law.
“Animal rights organizations can go out and patrol neighborhoods, and they can contact the Suffolk County SPCA or police to approach the homeowners,” he said.
He said he believes Mr. Bellone is in favor of the law, which could be signed within the next 30 days.