.I applaud the states and localities that have enacted legislation and passed laws limiting or banning the chaining of dogs. I never understood why one would adopt a dog, only to neglect it and tie it up in the back yard year round, day and night, in good weather and bad. Tethered dogs can choke, bleed, or drown from this act of animal cruelty. Bottom line is, if you can’t put your dog in your house, don’t get one, or move to a place where you can.
Other Bill and I once had to take the law into our own hands about this. In rural Virginia, we lived next door to a duplex that housed renters. It was my gathering from the real estate agent who sold us our house that you’re not supposed to say “renters,” especially when you are outside and the renters might hear you. Instead, you merely whisper the word, as one would utter a racial slur under one’s breath. Pete would always speak to us in audible volume, unless the sentence included the “R” word, which was muffled, often with a hand in front of his mouth.
We lived in our big brick house for several years, during which next door renters would move in and out of the units, often changing tenants several times a year.
I never met the landlord, but did speak to him on the phone once. He was an idiot. Wait, let me change that: He was an idiot! There was a beautiful, huge, 100-year-old walnut tree in the duplex’s back yard, and there was a rumor circulating that he was going to cut it down. This tree shaded our tin-roofed sunroom and in summertime, prevented it from becoming a steaming pit of hell. I talked to him on the phone about it. He said he was cutting it down because he was tired of walnuts clogging his gutters. Even though I offered to clean his gutters for him, he turned me down, and in no time, two guys with enormous chain saws came out and dropped the big, gorgeous tree to the ground in just minutes. They left it there for months to rot, until it was finally cut up in pieces and hauled off. It would have made some great flooring or furniture, but instead became firewood.
Apparently he did not allow his renters to have dogs in the house, and since there was no fencing in the back yard, any tenant who brought in a dog usually tied it up, usually but not always, under the formerly-standing walnut tree, which was close to the house, not at the bottom of the lot, where the dog could be easily fogotten about.
There was a rental family that built this ramshackle lean-to for their small mutt to seek shelter under during storms. Made of sticks, scrap lumber and rotting, unpainted plywood, this rat hole was not even big enough for the dog to turn around in. In addition, the dog was tethered to a ridiculously short chain that only allowed it in and out of the hovel.
I had often heard the dog shrieking and had seen the little white trash rental children pick the dog up by the neck and poke it with sticks.
I called the local SPCA and found out that chaining a dog was legal, as long as the chain was three times the length of the dog. How generous. A 20-inch dog could be tied with a chain the length of a shoelace.
Other Bill and I weighed our options. We could speak with the screaming, boozing mother about it and offer to buy the dog a longer chain. We could catch the kids on camera abusing the dog and show the mother and/or the police, but because she was a mean, alcoholic redneck, and we were city-born homos, we knew that this would not garner pleasant neighborly relations. Since she was on welfare and was home all day, we thought that having our house burned to the ground wouldn’t be out of the question. We had never introduced ourselves to her; although we did hear her yelling at her children a lot.
So our only other option was to steal the dog.
Other Bill had a friend who was always rescuing dogs and finding homes for them. She picked up the stray and wounded, or sometimes selected some from the shelter. Nancy repaired them and showed them love and either kept them herself, or farmed them out to friends and dog lovers. Bill called her and asked if she wanted to be a co-conspirator. Without giving it a second thought, Nancy said, “absolutely.”
Late one Saturday night, Other Bill and I got dressed up in all black, including gloves and balaclavas. We loved playing Mission Impossible. I had played the theme song in junior high band, and if someone had handed me a flute, I could have really set the stage.
We had literally mapped out our plan. We would keep the dog quiet with pieces of a leftover hamburger. He would hold the dog by the collar, while I would bend out the clasp on the chain so that it looked like the dog just pulled herself out of it. We were nervous and shaking as we crept down the back yard. We were probably the only residents of the town who didn’t have at least one gun, and people could be nutty on the weekends. I made a mental note to look into body armor in case this was to ever happen again.
The dog, a small beagle-mix mutt, was totally cooperative. She jumped on us and wagged her tail and whimpered a little, and then started chewing up the hamburger. I uncrimped the latch while Other Bill held the dog by the collar. When the chain was free, Bill scooped up the dog, and we ran back up into the warm house.
The dog was a little flipped out, but our dog, Murphy, helped to calm her down. But she was coated in mud and her own shit and had an intolerable stench to her. Plus, she was covered in ticks, some the size of small grapes. We removed the ticks, gave her a nice warm bath with the Shower Massage by Water Pik, dried her off, cut out the mats in her fur, fed her and gave her water, and in no time she fell asleep on our good boxer’s bed. Murphy slept in bed with us that night.
When dawn arrived, I got up, stretched and looked out from our second story bedroom window.
“Oh, my God!” I gasped. Other Bill immediately sprang out of bed, because there is just no way to wake him quietly, especially when you are exclaiming.
“What? What happened? What is it?” he asked, panicking, surmising that the FBI, Canine Theft Division, might be lining up troops in our yard.
“Look at the tracks!” I told him. Indeed, in the darkness of the night, we had left clear footprints in the dew-covered grass from our back door all the way to the back of the lot next door. We jumped in our clothes and shoes and ran outside and started stomping around and running in circles, making other tracks in the dewy grass, so when the FBI came, it wouldn’t be so obvious. Whew, that was close.
Nancy, the dog rescuer, was to meet us halfway between her home in Maryland and our house in Virginia. We stuffed the clean, fluffy dog into my car via the garage, remotely opened the garage door and fled the scene. A little over an hour later, we met Nancy in a Denny’s parking lot, made the drop, and then sped away in opposite directions.
No renters ever posted any “lost dog” signs in the neighborhood. Law enforcement did not come pounding on our door. We were willing to suffer the consequences if they had, and we could always get the dog back, as she lived with Nancy for a couple weeks before she found a good family for her.
And not long after that, to the new owner’s surprise, our stolen dog gave birth to a litter of puppies.
As far as I know, none of the new puppies went to live with renters.
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