Every time I drive the 16 miles from our ranch to my hometown in northern Idaho, I pass dogs who are chained to a tree, a doghouse or just to a stake driven into the ground.
Make no mistake: These aren't the pets of loving, responsible owners who want to make sure they're safe when unsupervised, so they secure them temporarily. These dogs are imprisoned within the chain's radius for their entire lives.
In fact, in the years I've lived here, I've never seen these chained-up dogs run free. Sadly, millions of other pets across this country share their fate.
I seldom catch their gaze -- they tend to seem resigned to their sad fate -- but I always feel sadness for the dogs and frustration at their owners. If these folks knew that chaining a dog all the time can have serious consequences, would they change how they confine their animals? I like to think so.
Experts agree that chaining increases aggression in some dogs. It can also be the primary cause of severe or lethal dog attacks on people.
"Rather than protecting the owner or property, a chained dog is often fearful for itself, particularly poorly socialized dogs, or those with a previous negative experience," says Dr. Rolan Tripp, a PetConnection contributing editor and owner of AnimalBehavior.net. "When tethered and exposed to a potentially threatening stimulus, one thing the dog definitely knows is 'I can't get away.' In that circumstance, a reasonable response might be, 'Therefore I'm going to try to scare you away by growling,' or worse yet, biting."
"I specifically see increased aggression when a dog feels responsible for protecting the owner and that person's belongings," agrees Dr. Myrna Milani, author of several books on animal behavior. "Under those circumstances, restraint of any kind makes it impossible for the dog to freely explore any perceived threat to determine whether it poses any danger or get away from it if it does."
Finally adding to this chorus is Dr. Elizabeth Shull, a board-certified veterinary neurologist.
"In addition to frustration, the constant physical restraint promotes excessive territoriality, which may be manifested as aggression," she says. "These attacks are unnecessary as they are easily preventable by using a secure fence for containment."
The person on the other end of the teeth is often a young child who wandered into the dog's territory, or a delivery person who didn't notice a chained dog until it was too late. A bite is always a tragedy for the victim, but it's often a death sentence for the dog. An avoidable catastrophe for all, in so many cases.
Dogs are social animals. They need to have company to live normal, healthy lives. Most dogs live in a human family, which fills their biological need for companionship.
The worst punishment for people in prison is solitary confinement, while the military uses the silent treatment as a nonviolent but highly effective means of reprimand. But these are only temporary measures, while a dog may be committed to the same punishment for most of its life.
These punishments are only evoked on humans for terrible crimes, but what crimes did these poor dogs commit to deserve such a fate? Think about what happens to a dog's physical being and spirit if he never knows freedom, companionship, play, joy?
If you need to secure your dog, get a big fence. If you need a security system, then install an electronic one. If you want a dog, but aren't willing to love it and consider its needs, get a stuffed one.
Chaining a dog up all the time is no way to treat a thinking, breathing, trusting, loving creature.
Little budgies big
Q: I am thinking about adding a bird to my family and was thinking specifically about a parakeet. What kind of investment will that entail? Are they messy? What kind of cage will I need? -- K.P., via e-mail
A: What we in the United States call a "parakeet" is really a "budgerigar," or budgie. (There are other varieties of parakeets besides budgies, which is why the distinction matters.) Budgies come in many colors and patterns, and two basic body types. The American style of budgie is slender and long compared to the husky, almost bulldog look of the English budgie. The personalities are the same, though.
Budgies are quite common and inexpensive compared to other parrots. Prices will vary, and birds typically can be found for less than $20, with rare colors on the higher side. It's worth paying more for a hand-raised bird, if you can find one, because taming an aviary-bred pet who has never been handled can be difficult.
All birds are messy, but a little budgie needs less cleaning up afterward than will a larger parrot.
Because they're so common, budgies are often dismissed as "just" a children's pet. But a friendly budgie can be a loving and entertaining pet for anyone, regardless of age or bird-care experience.
As for housing, the best guideline for choosing a cage is to look at the one specified for your bird -- and then go at least one or even two sizes bigger. For pets who spend a lot of their lives in confinement, it's only fair that they have as much room as possible. When you're looking at cages, though, check bar spacing to ensure the gaps are too narrow to allow escape.
Budgies are parrots, and so should be fed like them. Choose a high-quality pelleted diet and complement it with a wide variety of healthy "people food." Give seeds sparingly. Their best use is as a treat in training. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.
Pet insurance slow
to grow in the U.S.
-- The pet health insurance business started in 1924, when a Swedish company issued a policy to cover a dog. It wasn't until 1982 that such coverage became available in the U.S., when the celebrity collie Lassie became the first to be granted a policy. While the industry is growing in the United States with more companies and a greater variety of coverage options, there are still plenty of pet lovers who have not been sold on the concept. In Sweden, half of pet owners carry coverage, while about a quarter do in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., fewer than 3 percent of owners have health insurance coverage on their pets.
-- The Guinness Book of World Records has stopped listing animals in the "fattest" category, concerned that record-seeking owners will put their pets' health at risk to be a record-holder. Surveys of veterinarians report that about 60 percent of all cats and half of all dogs are overweight or obese.
-- For those who have thought ahead and made a disaster-preparedness plan, almost four of five say their pets are included, according to a report by the American Veterinary Medical Association. With hurricane season again threatening millions in the Southeast, now is a great time to develop a plan if you don't have one, or to review plans if you do have them. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon