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Lisa Unleashed: Updating The Anti-Tethering Dog Law With Adequate Shelter Language

Published: April 15, 2018

Next up on my list of bills to review is HB5355, An Act Establishing Standards for the Adequacy of Dog Shelter During Extreme Weather Conditions, introduced by the Environment Committee. This bill is amending language that appears in the existing anti-tethering law, Section 22-350a of the Connecticut General Statutes.

According to public hearing testimony on March 26, State Representative Brenda L. Kupchick (R-132) wrote that when the anti-tethering law was passed several years ago, “adequate shelter language didn’t make it through the process.” This law states you can’t tether a dog in extreme weather for more than 15 minutes. What lawmakers want to do with HB5355 is add adequate shelter language to keep dogs safe no matter how they are housed outdoors in extreme weather conditions. According to several other public hearing testimonies, dogs left outside with adequate food and water, but not shelter, may suffer. The law as written does not give law enforcement any recourse to approach an owner about sheltering conditions or cite them accordingly.

It appears that local animal control officers (ACOs) are asking for this language for two reasons. First, they have another law to determine if a dog is not being adequately cared for in extreme weather, since the state’s animal cruelty law apparently does not address this issue. And second, once ACOs are allowed to intercede on the condition of a dog based on sheltering needs in extreme weather, they will have an enforcement law to charge the owner with. The penalties are misdemeanors with a fine schedule starting at $100 for the first offense.

One thing I’ve observed over the years in legislative language is how either specific or vague it can be. I bring this up because there is one section of this proposed bill that has gone through some revisions that may or may not help dogs. Let’s look at the subsection below, before and after.

Here’s the original proposed bill with changes to [remove] language in brackets or to add language in italics: (b) No person shall: [tether] (1) Tether a dog outdoors to a stationary object or to a mobile device, including, but not limited to, a trolley or a pulley, [when] or (2) fail to provide a dog with continuous access to adequate shelter when the dog is located in an area subject to a weather advisory or warning [is] issued by local, state or federal authorities or when [outdoor] there are environmental conditions, including, but not limited to, [extreme] heat, cold, direct sunlight, wind, rain, snow or hail, that a person should reasonably know pose an adverse risk to the health or safety of such dog based on such dog’s [breed] size, age, [or] physical condition, or the thickness of the dog’s hair or fur unless tethering or lack of access to adequate shelter is for a duration of not longer than fifteen minutes.

Here’s the substitute bill language:

(b) No person shall: [tether] (1) Tether a dog outdoors to a stationary object or to a mobile device, including, but not limited to, a trolley or a pulley, [when] or (2) fail to provide a dog with continuous access to adequate shelter when a weather advisory or warning is issued by local, state or federal authorities or when outdoor environmental conditions, including, but not limited to, extreme heat, cold, wind, rain, snow or hail, pose an adverse risk to the health or safety of such dog based on such dog’s [breed] size, age or physical condition, unless tethering or lack of access to adequate shelter is for a duration of not longer than fifteen minutes.

Can you spot the difference, see what they took out and changed? The substitute version is streamlined back to almost all of the existing law with only a few changes. They have added language to include providing adequate shelter and they swapped out the word “breed” for “size.” This last change I find very curious. A dog’s breed can say so much about its physical condition and how well-suited it might be to handle weather extremes. A Siberian Husky with his thick double coat can certainly handle more than 15 minutes in the cold. And traditionally these sled dogs are tethered to their dog houses or shelters outdoors. I’ve seen photos of the breed curled up sleeping on top of an igloo-style shelter with six inches of snow on top the dog. A Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless) can lounge in heat as a preference as well.

If you look at the first draft of the bill, lawmakers tried to address the coat issue by adding, “or the thickness of the dog’s hair or fur” as one aspect that should be taken into consideration when evaluating if a dog is at risk in extreme weather conditions. What I don’t understand is how the word “size” works better than “breed” in determining living outdoors in the elements. I understand size can be used to determine if the shelter is of an adequate size, and that’s fine. The language also becomes more generic and inclusive of dogs regardless of breed or if they are a mixed breed. But I’d recommend adding the word breed back in to help assess conditions when dealing with purebreds.

I also like that they removed the term, “that a person should reasonably know” because that does nothing but open a can of worms as to what should they know? Overall, this bill is a good one to help law enforcement in educating those irresponsible dog owners who do not know what humane care is for their dogs, and if necessary, can now enforce appropriate criminal action against them.

Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses and hounds at lisaunleashed.com. You can reach her at lisa.peterson@barngirlmedia.com.

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