Over the July 4th weekend, I tried to stop occasionally and reflect on independence. I am grateful for the independence I enjoy every day. I've been an adult for a long time now (chronologically anyway) and still every day I am thrilled at the fact that I get to make my own choices, that I can drive a car wherever and whenever I want, that I can own my own home, and that I can work my own hours and at whatever jobs I choose to take. I don't have a husband, children, a boss, or a landlord. I am, however, enthralled to a dog. But even that's a choice, too, as you all know from your own experiences. So, I have a lot to celebrate.
So I was kind of intrigued when I heard on KUT news that a local woman was observing the holiday by chaining herself to a tree in a city park. Her point was to bring awareness to the plight of dogs that spend their entire lives chained to an object, something that is now illegal but still all too common in Austin.
The woman is Bobbie Oliver, and she is a retired Austin police commander. Her plan on the Fourth was to spend 17 hours chained to a tree in Garrison Park. She and about 80 other people around the nation were participating in a one-day event they were calling Chain Off. Here's what Oliver told KUT:
“I’m out here all day because I want to get a little taste of what it’s like to be on the end of a chain,” said Oliver. “And it’s just hard to understand unless you’ve felt the boredom and the complete powerlessness of it.”The report mentioned that she had generated a little interest from people passing by. At least one person was concerned about her mental health and called the police. Others kept their distance. I was pretty impressed. My initial reaction to the kind of statement Ms. Oliver was making is to dismiss. I am liberal in my politics but suspicious of public protests, at least those that are not about crowds of people chanting and holding signs, where there is some safety and power in numbers. I am never quite convinced that stunts that involve chaining oneself to something are solely about drawing attention to a cause. But when a former officer of the law makes the commitment to do something that is so uncomfortable and also painful to contemplate, I had to rethink my stance. I hope others paid attention, too.
Which brings me to the local ordinance that is at the heart of Oliver's protest. A while back, I complained that I was not allowed to leash Muzzy outside my branch library. I thought that the problem was specific to the library, that dog-unfriendly people had complained, but no. The ordinance that is supposed to protect dogs from spending a lifetime chained to a car on blocks also prevents us from tying our dogs outside a building while we run in to get beer or a library book.
The ordinance was amended in June of 2007 to remove all language that once allowed unsupervised chaining of dogs in Austin. Here's Part 3, Section 3-4-2 (Restraint Requirements For Dogs on Private Property:
"(A) . . . a person may not restrain a dog with a chain or tether unless the person is holding the chain or tether."The following is shown as crossed out:
"(A person may not restrain a dog by a fixed point chain or tether for more than eight hours in a 24-hour day unless the chain or tether is at least 10 feet long, has swivels at each end, and is attached to a pulley or trolley mounted cable that is mounted no more than seven feet above ground level.)"Other parts of the ordinance outline the basic requirements for secure enclosure of a dog, none of which involves tethering or chaining. You can read the full text of the revised ordinance here.
Of course, this is a non-issue for readers of this blog, who spend hours of their day sweating and swatting mosquitos and gnats at Dog Park while their dogs romp freely (and, yes, illegally) in the burr-laden fields, but it is always important to remember that not every person or every dog gets to enjoy the independence he or she deserves.
Thanks for reading. -z