The cold is unforgiving today. I’m on the road and taking the opportunity to check on dogs who are chained up all year-round. I’m an inspector for the Montreal SPCA and I’m responsible for enforcing animal protection laws. However, since these laws still allow dogs to be permanently kept tied up outside, I can’t force people to bring their dogs indoors when it’s -30°C. I arrive on site, I get out of my vehicle and an icy wind fills my lungs – you know the wind that catches your breath for a few moments when you go outside in winter? That’s the one.
Not a single tree in sight, only white and icy fields, above which swirls a powdery blizzard. I notice the dog house with the blue roof. It’s in good condition. Its floor is raised, its entrance is sufficiently narrow, in short, it’s in compliance with the law. I don’t need to get too close for the occupant to spot me. A beautiful, large shepherd mix emerges from the tiny blue shelter. I don’t know his real name, but this isn’t my first time here, and I’ve already named him “Bowie”, like the singer, he has one brown eye and one blue eye. He wears a red nylon collar which is attached to a 6-foot chain that connects him to the dog house. No infraction there.
Bowie greets me with a few barks. He approaches and sniffs my boots, gently wagging his tail. His greying muzzle and soft eyes tell me that he’s seen a few things in his day. People who keep dogs tied up like this will often tell you that it’s to “guard the property”. Between you and me, I don’t see how a sweet 10-year old pooch tied to a 6-foot chain can really guard anything.
A dog of this age and size will undoubtedly begin to suffer from arthritis in his hips, if that’s not already the case. How could someone leave him out today? I’m furious. I know this place and know full well that the owner has another dog, which he keeps indoors, because she’s smaller, because she doesn’t shed, because she’s the “house dog”. Why keep one in the house and one outside? But I already know the answer, and I hear it ringing in my head: “He’s half German shepherd, honey, he’s meant to be outside.” If I had a dollar every time I heard that.
Anyway, here I am faced with a situation that shocks me deeply, but that I can’t do much about. Everything is legal: the dog house is constructed in compliance with the law and the dog doesn’t appear to be either ill or thin. But its -30ºC, remember? And yet my only power right now is that of persuasion, and it goes without saying that it is limited. I leave Bowie and head for the house. I knock on the front door and Bowie’s owner, whom I recognize, answers. After some small talk about today’s frigid weather, I remind him that his dog needs exercise and social contact, that it would be nice if he would sometimes untie him and take him on walks. I mention that he is starting to get older, and that he shouldn’t be outside in this kind of weather. I also suggest putting a windbreaker in the entrance of the dog house to prevent the wind and snow from getting in. He nods his head politely, knowing all too well that he doesn’t really have to do anything.
On my way back to my car, I stop by the blue dog house to give Bowie one last scratch behind the ears. He hits the end of his chain in his attempt to follow me. Heartbroken, I get into my car and I glance one last time at Bowie, who looks at me with his beautiful eyes. I head back on the road, to my next chained dog visit, thinking about the long walks, camping adventures, cozy dog bed indoors, and special permissions to jump onto the bed on Sunday mornings that this beautiful grey-muzzled shepherd mix could have enjoyed had he landed somewhere else.
Dogs may be man’s best friend, yet my line of work sometimes leads me to believe that man very rarely lives up to the reciprocity of this friendship. Dogs only want to please and to be in contact with their people. To isolate them on the end of a chain, while exposing them to extreme weather, is simply cruel.
My heart breaks every time I meet a Bowie. Every single time. Please demand that the government ban the permanent chaining of dogs by visiting www.cutthechain.ca. Please, cut the chain.
Elyse G. Hynes has been an inspector and special constable for the Montreal SPCA’s Investigations and Inspections Department since April 2014. She holds a Bachelor of Law from Université de Montréal as well as a certificate in criminology from the same institution. As a team leader for the deaprtement, her role is to coordinate the work of inspectors in the field and to ensure that animal cruelty and neglect investigations are successfully completed. Passionate about horses, Elyse is also a volunteer for Galahad, an organization whose mission is to find homes for rescued equines. She shares her life with her dog, Holly, her cat, Capitaine Tofu, and her horse, Achilles. (© Photo of Elyse : Anik Therrien-Létourneau, photographer)
Dogs are social animals who deserve to spend their lives as full members of the family – not at the end of a chain. Yet the sad reality is that a very large number of dogs in Quebec spend their entire lives permanently chained outdoors, essentially condemned to life in prison. This is because in our province, it is still perfectly legal to keep dogs continually tied up, even though the practice is both inhumane and unsafe.