Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chained and neglected

Twice a day I fed them, changed their water, picked up their waste, cuddled and petted each of them, and let them off their chain to run and sniff for half an hour. Each day, I got a little angrier with their owner, Mike. It wasn’t always this way for Dakota and Max. Before Mike moved, they had a back yard and never tried to escape. I walked them twice a day, and I only got irritated when it rained, because they had no doghouse. But in his new home they could see the hills outside the chain link fence, and Max was up and over as soon as Mike went in the house.

In June, my friend Sandy was horrified to visit the dogs in their new home. I was on vacation, so she filled in for me for a week. Mike had built a gorgeous new home on a hilltop overlooking all of the city. Nothing was fenced yet, so Dakota and Max were on chains. When Sandy arrived she read the riot act to Mike’s daughter. The dogs were chained in the 90-degree heat, and had dumped their water. They were tangled in each other’s chains and couldn’t retreat to a nearby bush or even move. She called the humane society, who came out and lectured Mike when he returned from his trip.

A few weeks later, Mike called me, complaining about Sandy and how she upset his daughter. He was ready for me to pet sit again, and the dog run was built, but he still had the dogs chained because they were jumping the fence and digging out. Big surprise, a Malamute digs…

I set up a shade area for Max with a tarp tied to a PVC pipe frame.  Dakota could get to the shade under a low growing palm, and she had dug a nice hole to sleep in. Several of my visits, I had to untangle their chains. Summer in Poway is like living in the desert: hot, dry and dusty. I brought over a water bucket that could be fastened to the fence with a hook, so they couldn't dump it as easily, and a big plastic doghouse for Dakota.

I always assume people don’t purposely mistreat their dogs. It’s just that they are ignorant and don’t know better. I went to great lengths to suggest ways Mike could keep them in their dog run:

• Switch to solid fencing instead of chain link so they can’t see out.

• Cement around the bottom so they can’t dig.

• Hot-wire the top and bottom

• Build a digging pit for them to play in- with tasty buried bones etc, renewed regularly.

• Let them run for awhile every day so the get enough exercise and mental stimulation.

Were the dogs abused? Malamutes love cold weather and many experts think they are happier living outside in the cold. Once he provided water and shade during the heat, the only neglect was leaving them chained. People tie up their dogs all the time all over the United States, though most dog experts disapprove because it causes behavior problems, and often, injury.  The dogs were clean, brushed and well behaved. They weren’t aggressive or obviously frustrated; in fact they seemed really happy. I felt I was guilty of imposing my idealistic standards of pet care on someone else. 

If the humane society seized the dogs, they’d be euthanized in the shelter, and what would that accomplish? Mike would go buy more dogs, sue Sandy and me, and NEVER ever fix up the dog run. I wasn’t happy with the way this was working out, but at least I could see Max and Dakota occasionally and monitor when (if) he ever set up a better living situation. His last Malamute lived 13 years, so he figures he’s doing something right. 

The Good News

The dogs have a nice big dog run today. They can't escape, they have shade, a doghouse (same one) and their water bucket (same one)  and lots of room to dig to their hearts' content. They still don't get to come in the house, but I do think they are happy. Mike lets them out to run in the yard when he is outside, so they get some attention and exercise. Both are older now, but have no serious health problems.

What can a pet sitter do?
Aside from calling Animal Control, there's not much you can do. If the owner meets the minimum standards of food, water and confinement, there's nothing they can do. If you absolutely can't stand the way someone cares for their pets, quit. Let them find another pet sitter. But in this case, I felt I could benefit the dogs by staying on, and for over 5 years now they have been my clients. I'm not happy with their living conditions, but I don't think the dogs suffer. They just don't have the life I would want for them. 

Pet sitters are employees, not the animal care police. We don't have the right to force people to do things our way. From the brand of food they choose to whether they let the dogs in the house, it's not our call. Sometimes I hate it, but that's the way it is. 

1 comment:

barrie said...

UGH! This is why I have the "no outside only dogs" rule for clients. Does that mean that I don't think it is possible for dogs to have a good life if they don't come in the house? No. BUT, I get so incredibly worried about outside only dogs' care and quality of life that I am forever making a bazillion extra trips that I wind up not charging for to make sure that they are really okay. It is just too hard on my emotionally to attempt to care for outside only dogs so I now refuse those jobs.