For years, people who care about animals have worked hard, but unsuccessfully to pass anti-tethering legislation in Pennsylvania. Recently, Melissa Smith, Executive Director of the York County SPCA, took matters into her own hands and is now working township by township to eradicate this atrocious practice. She graciously agreed to tell us her story in a guest blog with the hope of inspiring others across the state to create ordinances prohibiting extended tethering in their own townships as well as to prompt a state-wide ban.
Guest blog by Melissa Smith
I have worked for the York County SPCA for nearly 25 years and during that time have encountered thousands of heartbreaking situations. Near the top of this list in terms of frequency and egregiousness are my observances of tethered dogs. While my current position as Executive Director does not facilitate direct contact with these poor canines often, my years as the Humane Society Police Officer (HSPO) provided a constant reminder of the plight of tethered dogs. On far too many nights, after returning home from work and hearing the wind howling outdoors from frigid temperatures, I would think of the dogs I had investigated that day. While I was warm in bed, these dogs were outside struggling to keep warm. While I was sipping on hot cocoa, these dogs were unable to drink because their water was undoubtedly frozen. The best I could hope for was that there was no freezing rain, sleet or snow which can be deadly for a dog who becomes wet and could ultimately die slowly and painful from exposure.
As I moved on from my position of HSPO to Operations Manager and then Executive Director, I never forgot about the outdoor dogs who touched my life. In late 2011 I decided to take a big chance and do something about it. I began to gather examples of tethering ordinances from other states and I discussed my plan with Sarah Speed, who is the Pennsylvania State Director of The Humane Society of the United States. Then, I spoke with a trusted attorney on the York County SPCA Board of Directors, to get his input. He compiled information along with specific ideas that I had to address tethering and he produced a draft of a tethering ordinance. With excitement and uncertainty, I mailed a copy of this draft along with an explanatory cover letter to all 72 municipalities in York County.
After a short time, I heard back from a few municipalities that considered my proposal but ultimately decided not to move forward, highlighting the need for a state-wide law.
Reaching out to municipalities where I had observed an inordinate number of tethered dogs.
Attending municipal meetings to provide statistics on tethered dogs in their areas.
Showing pictures to relay first-hand accounts of neglected outdoor dogs.
Finally after several months, the first two municipalities, Mount Wolf Borough and York Township passed the ordinance, followed closely by Spring Garden Township, Springettsbury Township and Heidelberg Township. I was overjoyed. We were the first in PA to provide this type of protection for outdoor dogs. And, I am thrilled to say that Newberry Township has just passed the ordinance making them the sixth municipality within York County to step up for the dogs in our community. Our work is far from over and I will continue to discuss this very important issue with other York County municipalities. This is a campaign that can be replicated in townships across our state until Pennsylvania finally passes statewide legislation.
Melissa Smith is the Executive Director of the York County SPCA. The York County SPCA is dedicated to providing long-term human and animal services to residents of York County through programs that find permanent, loving homes for displaced and stray animals, help control animal population growth, investigate and prosecute cruelty offenders and educate the general public about animal wellness and safety.
For more information about pending anti-tethering bills in Pennsylvania: End 24/7 Tethering of Dogs in Pennsylvania