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Local organizations' dog advocacy is off the chain

Jessica Fuller • Updated Dec 6, 2017 at 9:20 PM

Over the past few years, several animal activist groups have popped up in the region to give an unchained life to as many dogs as possible. 

Chainfree Bristol, an organization dedicated to getting dogs off their chains, began the local crusade eight years ago. The organization, like several others, offers to build free fences for people with dogs that stay on a chain. So far, the group says it has freed more than 120 dogs since its founding in 2010. 

Chainfree Dogs followed in 2014 in Washington and Sullivan counties. Headed by Christy Rabetoy and a handful of volunteers that help her with her goals, the organization has freed about 104 dogs and built 65 100-feet long, 4-feet high fences.

Rabetoy said she works closely with other Chainfree organizations in Bristol and Greeneville to make sure any dog in the region can be served. 

A lot of the families that received Chainfree services can’t afford a fence, and that’s when Rabetoy and other volunteers step in. She partners with local veterinarians, the Washington County Humane Society and the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter to get the word out about Chainfree’s purpose and services.

“A lot of it is just a lack of understanding dogs are family pets now, they’re not really farm animals anymore,” Rabetoy said. “In 60 percent of homes, they’re considered four-legged families.”

Rabetoy said that she doesn’t base services on income, but a dog owner has to own their property to build a fence, or get written permission from their landlord. All dogs on the property have to be spayed or neutered and have adequate shelter, and Rabetoy has a partnership with Roofs4Rover to help owners get shelter for dogs.

A dog that lives its life on a chain can develop a host of issues, including physical and behavioral problems.

Tammy Davis, operations manager at the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter, said it’s not uncommon for dogs to come into the shelter with collars embedded around their necks. Being on a constant chain can cause neck pain and discomfort for any dog, but in the worst cases, some dogs have to be sedated to have collars surgically removed. 

That’s not even mentioning the behavioral issues that can arise from keeping a dog on a chain. 

“Once a dog becomes confined outside away from everyone, a dog that was once happy and friendly, sometimes they become neurotic, anxious and it can also cause them to become aggressive,” Davis said. “Dogs can be territorial anyway, and when they’re confined to a space away from everyone else they feel a need to protect that space and that causes aggression.” 

A chained life can also lead to depression for the dog, not to mention a dangerous one, Davis said. Without proper shelter, a dog that is chained 24/7 is exposed to extreme cold and hot weather, and limited mobility means it is vulnerable to any other animals that may come sniffing around, leaving the chained dog with little defense since it can’t escape the confines of its tether.

Neglect is also common with tethered dogs, Davis said, and they may not be properly fed, watered or given adequate shelter. 

“(The dogs) become a lawn ornament instead of a loving companion. We see dogs a lot of times that have been chained out back, they don’t get fresh water, they only get fed when their people think about it, it’s so sad,” Davis said. 

Currently, animal rdinances in Johnson City allow dogs to be chained outside as long as they have food, water and shelter. Advocates tried unsuccessfully to change that in 2008, but Rabetoy said she thinks it’s time to bring it to the City Commission again 10 years later. 

She said she would like to see a ban on 24-hour tethering, but issues like how to police and monitor tethering could keep any legislation from gaining traction. Until then, Rabetoy said she is dedicated to freeing as many dogs as possible through Chainfree Dogs and working with other advocates in the area to give local dogs the best life possible. 

“For me to see a dog running off a chain like dogs were meant to run, it’s great,” she said. “They’re really man’s best friend and they’re meant to be running and playing and not chained.”

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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