A good year for dogs

Published 5:31 pm Monday, September 1, 2014

Suffolk had a bit of an image problem prior to the passage of an anti-tethering law last year. Despite the fact that it was one of several Hampton Roads cities that did not explicitly outlaw the chaining of dogs in yards, the city had earned a reputation among animal activists as the place where dogs were most likely to be found tied up and left alone outside.

When the issue was brought to the attention of City Council member Mike Duman, who is also a board member for the Suffolk Humane Society, he looked for a way for the city government to get involved to put an end to the practice, which experts say causes depressed and aggressive dogs and, furthermore, gives the city a poor image.

During the year since Duman successfully lobbied the rest of the council to pass the anti-tethering ordinance, there has been little judicial activity connected to the new law. Just four court summonses have been issued, and only one court conviction has been obtained, officials said last week.

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But Duman and Suffolk police officials nonetheless believe the new ordinance has been effective at curbing the practice of leaving dogs tied to leads. “The goal of the ordinance was always, to the degree possible, voluntary compliance,” Maj. Stephanie Burch said. “Not every law requires enforcement to be effective.”

In fact, during the first few months after the law went into effect last September, police saw more people building pens and installing invisible fences and fencing in their yards, officials said. Residents had been warned of the change through a variety of media, including a direct-mail campaign, and it appears they quickly took steps to comply.

Since December, when police began enforcing the law, they have issued about 70 verbal warnings as a result of tethering tips. The fact that only four of those calls resulted in summonses illustrates the effectiveness of those warnings and of the educational effort in general.

Duman last week had high praise for the results of the ordinance. “It effectively has eliminated the abusive treatment of the dogs that previously were subjected to inhumane tethering,” he said. “By our actions, we demonstrated Suffolk is a progressive and compassionate city.”

Indeed, Suffolk has improved its reputation around Hampton Roads with the way it responded to the issue of tethering dogs. Even more important, though, it improved the actual living conditions of dogs around the city.

The anti-tethering ordinance seems to have been a great success, and Duman and the folks at the Suffolk Humane Society — who worked so hard for it — should be proud. They helped ensure it was a good year for dogs in Suffolk.