Furr No More

October 20, 2011  

Trying to persuade my neighbors not to chain up their dog

(This is not Furr, but they look alike, and this is how Furr was tied up all day.)

By Molly Tamulevich

It’s a warm day for October in Michigan. I’m sitting on my porch with my laptop. In front of me stand tall evergreen bushes dripping with juicy, dusty looking red berries. To my right is the peeling brown house where my neighbor Stacy lives, her blinds constantly cracked so that she can observe the neighborhood. There is broken glass on the street, a vacant lot on the corner, and, most importantly, tethered where I cannot see him, is Furr.

I know exactly what Furr is doing right now, because he is unable to do anything else. Right now, with the sun shining and the last traces of summer falling from the trees, Furr is sitting in the dirt surrounded by pieces of chewed up cardboard. He may be digging at the large hole he began last week. Perhaps he is staring at my driveway or gnawing at the side of the house where his rope is tied. He certainly can’t be suffering, because according to Michigan State law, Furr’s life is not in violation of animal welfare standards. So why do I lie awake at night thinking about him?

If Furr were not grey from the dirt he lies in all day, he would be white with liver colored patches dap-pling his sides, ears and face. He is going on 7 months old, with yellow eyes that stare unblinkingly like a fish. He has migrated three times in the two months I have lived in my house. Initially, he was tied up to the tree in front of his owner’s house with a heavy chain secured with a padlock. Then the chain was switched out for a long red tether, and within a few weeks, he was tied to another tree right outside my bedroom window.

My upstairs neighbor, a prostitute and drug dealer whose business dealings keep her loudly awake most nights, likes to go and visit with the puppy, but Furr’s owner confronted her one day and insisted that she leave him alone because they want him as a guard dog. This resulted in Furr being moved closer to his house, tied along a stairway. Where he was once able to move in a circle around trees, he is restricted to pacing a half moon of dust and garbage.

Making friends with Furr

Furr’s owner is a friendly man who treats the puppy affectionately when I see them interact. He and I wave to each other. I’m in a difficult position. My lease is two years long and the neighborhood is not the best. No one is breaking the law, and I don’t want to attract attention to myself if I call animal control. I’ve heard horror stories about neighbors who retaliate when investigated, and I do not trust my neighbor. I’m not stupid. He and I are friendly, but he is also involved with the drug deals upstairs and has a lot of late night visitors who only stay for a few minutes before peeling out of the driveway. I really really want to like him, however. He makes me smile and calls the dog Furball, ruffling his ears with a gentle hand.

One of the problems I have with my advocate friends is the lack of sensitivity they display when ap-proaching this type of situation. I acknowledge that there are many ways of keeping companion animals and that the owned home with a white picket fence may not be appropriate or available for everyone. With this in mind, however, there is nothing promising about Furr’s future.

I’ve heard horror stories about neighbors who retaliate when investigated, and I do not trust my neighbor. I’m not stupid.

In the interest of my own safety and in attempting to respect Furr’s owner, I decide to try to build a relationship with my neighbor and make myself available to care for the dog if he needs it. I begin by visiting with Furr every day. I bring him treats and toys, simple things like toilet paper rolls stuffed with food. I rarely see anyone outside with the puppy, and his body changes drastically when he sees me approach. He tenses, then wiggles, his baggy baby skin rolling over developing muscles as he strains against the fraying cord that holds him prisoner.

After a few weeks, I ask my neighbor if it would be possible to take Furr running with me. He agrees enthusiastically. I believe that this may be the most crucial step. In my mind, the puppy will get exercise, my neighbor and I will build up trust, and if Furr is still being tethered by the first frost, I will call animal control and with have a legitimate case because they can cite the weather as a reason to confiscate him. No one will be the wiser.

The girlfriend

The plan has been a disaster.

I went next door, ready to run, and was met by my neighbor’s girlfriend who I had never seen before. She coldly informed me that I could take it up with her boyfriend when he came home. He drove up a minute later and came over to me smiling, offering to get me the puppy. He didn’t have a leash and so I took Furr running on his tether. He was wonderful, so desperate to be near me that he followed every footstep, never pulling, never running off. I sat with him and held his body in my lap. We ran laps around a nearby park and he looked up at me through blades of grass, eyes thoughtful. When I returned to his house, I was again faced with the girlfriend. She looked down at me through the closed door of their porch and spoke to me through the window. “Tie him up on the tree” she said angrily, and walked back into the house. The porch was covered in debris, toys and garbage. My heart sank. I was not a welcome presence at their house. I grudgingly tied Furr to the tree and patted his head.

“Tie him up on the tree” she said angrily, and walked back into the house.

That afternoon, my neighbors had a terrible fight. I almost called the police. The girlfriend ran out of the house screaming and fled down the street. That night, Furr’s house was filled with banging noises. An invisible wall went up around the property, and I felt that broaching it was unsafe. I resigned myself to waiting and tried not to pay attention when the puppy looked expectantly at me when I passed by.

The day after the first frost, a truck appeared in the grass between my house and Furr’s. I assumed that it was new tenants moving in, as there had been a ‘for rent’ sign up in the front yard for months. Furr’s humans fought violently in the front yard that day, and I didn’t venture outside until I left for dinner. When I came home, I looked out my window into a brightly lit, empty house. I dashed outside. Furr was gone. Garbage lay in heaps around the yard. I ran upstairs to where my new neighbor, just out of the army lived. “Please come with me next door” I begged him, “I need to see if they left the dog inside”. Despite never having met me before, he helped me kick down the door. The heat was on full blast. There were toys strewn all over the floor and the back porch smelled like dog urine. Furr was gone.

I lurked for days by my window waiting for the family to return for the rest of their things. I pestered the landlord who told me he didn’t have their phone number. My neighbor even saw Furr’s owner and asked him if he could have the dog. The owner said that he would drop him off, but never came. In the blink of an eye, I lost my chance. I had waited too long to call for help.

It has been proven that tethering dogs is a major cause of aggression. Bored and under-exercised, chained animals can eventually become territorial, unpredictable and violent. Unfortunately, many states do not prohibit chaining, and the practice is common across the US.

What the law says

In Michigan, the law states that a dog’s tether must measure three times the length of his or her body. That means that Furr, measuring around three feet from snout to tail would be legally allowed nine feet of line to live his entire life. Animal lovers often struggle with the balance between law, safety, and their own sense of right and wrong. There were many reasons why I chose not to call animal control sooner, fear for my own well-being being the most important.

As dog lovers, we want to do the right thing, but the path isn’t always easy. There will be victories and there will be losses. Even the victories may be bitter — devastated children and eventual euthanasia are both possibilities when a dog is removed from a home. I think about Furr and the long Michigan winters. I wish I had acted sooner.

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23 Responses to “Furr No More”
  1. This is one story that brings tears of sadness, I wish I hadn’t read this story. This is heart breaking; I pray for Furr and other dogs that are in his situation.

    • AnnColeman says:

      @theprettychic I’m sorry for the tears but by reading this story you can share it with others and open their eyes to the plight of “resident” dogs all over this country.

  2. JessWilliams says:

    To the many dogs and cats being treated just like Furr, I shed tears. Not every home deserves a dog, but every dog deserves a home. This happens more than we know, and more than we want to believe. It’s heart breaking, and the law is usually “not” on the dog’s side. **sigh**

  3. blazer says:

    I bet many readers can relate — I cannot, and am thankful for that, but sad knowing this happens. I tend to think like the reader and in other situations, not want to raise a fuss. As time goes by, I’m becoming less quiet and less of a pushover of sorts. Maybe this article can be the motivation for us and others to push for better laws, better pet ownership of those we know? There’s always going to be gray areas though. Until humans become more compassionate, I guess we’ll always see this. I’ll keep this in the back of my mind and if I need a mental ‘push’ one day, maybe this will be it.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @blazer Hopefully we all will find that mental push when it’s necessary.

    • MollyTamulevich says:

      @blazer I know that it can be hard to engage with a situation that’s as sad and seemingly hopeless as dog chaining, but I think you’re right. Better laws and engaged citizens can certainly help change the situation on a larger scale!

  4. debihili says:

    There is a similar story going on just a few doors up from me (which, in the city, is pretty darn close). The cruelty officer from the SPCA has been here and has asked that I contact him once the weather gets cold. Right now in Pennsylvania the owner is just within the (lousy) laws of this state.

    This has been going on for years. It is not that this dog is a pit bull that scares me (I have four dogs, one of which is also a pit), but that it is a dog that has lived outdoors like a wild animal with no social interaction. The neighbors on either side have tried to befriend this dog who allows petting but then suddenly “turns” to bite.

    Eight years ago I adopted a golden retriever which was living in a similar situation in another part of Pennsylvania. After the SPCA failed to show up, I was on the receiving end when two brave women took matters into their own hands and lured this dog out of the yard with a slice of pizza.

    The law be damned. If a dog is friendly enough for you to get close to it, I would “help” it out of the situation and find it a home far, far away.

    At first I felt guilty about getting a dog in this manner. Now I’m over it.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @debihili thank you for sharing. any situation like this is hard and it’s tough to say exactly what to do. At least the SPCA officer seems concerns and asks that you contact him once the weather turns cold. Hopefully this dog will get a second chance with someone who can teach him how to be a dog again.

  5. pearl.rebecca says:

    How heartbreaking for you! Is there any way through 6 degrees of separation or through the local rescue community for someone to keep half an eye out at the shelters to see if this pup ever gets picked up as a stray or surrendered. (To me at least) the picture above is fairly unique with the eyes. Maybe down the line he’ll end up in the system and it’ll ring a bell with someone and he’ll finally wind up with a better future.

  6. Mela says:

    You did try to act and you had no way of knowing that Fur would be taken away from his home. Had he stayed, your approach would likely have been very successful. There was no way you could have predicted the future. Building the owners trust would have been a great solution – a lasting solution. Once you had his trust, he might even have considered your position and treated future dogs better.

    • MollyTamulevich says:

      @Mela Thank you! I have seen so many variations of this situation play out over the years, and as much as I wish I could have just taken Furr away, that would have done nothing to prevent the owner from acquiring (and more closely guarding) another dog. I felt like we were making progress until things got out of hand.

  7. TraceyTateCutler says:

    Thank you for sharing! I think there are many folks out there who have had dealt with the same issues, fears & regrets ~ You are not alone…

  8. TraceyTateCutler says:

    Thank you for sharing! I think there are many folks out there who have dealt with the same issues, fears & regrets ~ You are not alone…xo

    seconds ago

  9. Adrienne Clegg says:

    I have lived for years in areas touched by decay and violence you describe.. And the path to helping the dog is often a slippery slope, one which so easily leaves you feeling impotent and sad.

    I have had some luck and failures and come to believe that what children are taught early in school, and in after school programs can often profoundly affect these kids choices later on. Respect and compassion are a thing lacking in many secular urban enviroments where generations of family members have gone to prison and drugs, unemployment and low priority of education create a very brutal society.

    You did a good thing, don’t give up.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @Adrienne Clegg We think it’s so wonderful the support everyone is giving to Molly in what was such an incredibly hard, emotional experience. Thanks everyone.

  10. AndreaF says:

    Thanks for making a different in Furr’s life! He was lucky to have you for as long as he did. I can’t imagen how hard it must of been on you when he was gone. But belive me, you made a difference in this little guys life

    • MollyTamulevich says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. These types of situations are difficult to negotiate, but the dogs so often disappear without anyone to tell their stories. It makes me happy to know that Furr’s situation could potentially be used to help other dogs.

  11. In Black & White says:

    It was brave of you to try – don’t torture yourself that you couldn’t do more. We can’t win every time, at least you didn’t stand by. There’s a lot going on in my neighborhood that I don’t agree with. I say what I can and hope that chipping away at the problem piece by piece will make a difference in the long run.

  12. AnnColeman says:

    Molly, I can relate to this situation, I have been through similar ones myself. So many of us have been there. You gave that boy a moment of peace and love, which is so important and more than many get. Once your eyes are opened, you’ll have so many more opportunities not only to do something on your own but by doing what you are doing now, sharing your story and opening others’ eyes. Thanks for sharing this and best to you.

  13. BetseyHench says:

    I can completely relate to this story. I live in a not so amazing section of baltimore where most people are just squeaking by and honestly think that there really isn’t anything wrong with just chaining a dog up outside and not giving it the attention and exercise it needs to thrive. i was also in a similar situation where i was attempting to help/get help/not put myself in a precarious situation or break the law on my end (because i would lose my job if i just stole the dog and they called the cops). its very tough but you know what, the niceness you showed the dog really did make a difference if only for that one day. and i bet you really made that guy think or maybe planted the seed. keep on doing good !

  14. PeggyJennings says:

    Sadly, many of us have gone though this and experienced that feeling that goes with not knowing the end of the story. We all hope it ends well but we usually don’t find out. People have to be educated in the needs of animals so that they know better and we do what we can but we are limited.

  15. Dawn Bruton says:

    Molly, you tell an amazing story! You are an animal angel here on earth! Keep up the great work. Your stories will surely inspire others. Just make sure you stay safe. Miss You!