"Errand Dogs": Leaving Dogs Tied Up Outside StoresPublished January 8, 2013
Victoria Schade / Do Not Reproduce
A few days ago someone leashed their dog to a parking meter right outside my shop and went to the restaurant next door for lunch. The poor dog looked miserable all alone in the cold, so I brought Millie and Olive’s bed out to him so he could at least have a little comfort while he waited. I snapped the picture shown above and put it up on Facebook because I thought the juxtaposition of the dog in bed on the street was sadly sweet. The next thing I knew the photo was burning up with commendations for my kindness (it really wasn’t a big deal to bring the bed out) and condemnation for the dog’s owners. “How dare they?” people asked. “That’s inhumane – it’s so cold outside!” The dog was universally pitied and the owners were universally reviled until a lone voice in the comments section asked, “Is it really so bad to leave your dog outside when you run errands?”
I think it is. Here’s why.
Dogs tied up outside almost always look stressed. I make my living observing dogs, so I’m not being anthropomorphic when I say that these leashed dogs exhibit behaviors that prove that they don’t enjoy being left alone. Most of them show stress signals like lip licking and yawning. They often pace while waiting, resulting in a leash twisted until it’s short and uncomfortably tight. (Like the dog that was leashed in front of my store.) They usually keep their eyes trained on the doorway that swallowed up their person, or they scan the horizon looking for a familiar gait heading back to them. These dogs aren’t relaxed until their person returns.
Dogs tied up outside can get loose. Before I brought the bed to the leashed dog pictured above I walked into the restaurant next door to find his person and ask if it was okay for me to do so. (Approaching unknown tethered dogs can be a dicey situation. More on that later.) When I asked the guy sitting in the window if the dog outside was his, he said, “Why? Did he get loose again?” Turns out his dog managed to untie the leash, run up to my door and vault off of it a few times. It’s not difficult for a tethered dog to work his way free of the leash (he’s got nothing else to do while out there alone), resulting in a wild-eyed stress case running the streets.
Dogs tied up outside can “disappear.” The dog outside my door was absolutely lovely. He was a sweet, approachable, handsome guy that wanted nothing more than to interact with me while he shivered. I liked him. But what if I liked him so much that I decided to walk away with him? It only takes a few seconds to unsnap a leash and leave with the dog, particularly if the dog is small and can be carried. The “lucky” stolen dogs end up as a pet in a new household. The unlucky ones? We don’t want to know.
Dogs tied up outside have to cope with the weather. The main outcry for the leashed dog pictured above was the frigid temperature that day, but I contend that this guy was lucky considering what I’ve seen other “errand dogs” enduring. A few years back I noticed a Golden Retriever tied outside a dock-side restaurant in the blazing sun. He had no water, no shade and very little room to move. I was uncomfortable standing in the sun near the dog, and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, not a fur coat. Forcing a dog to wait in one spot without adequate heating or cooling options is cruel.
Dogs tied up outside have to navigate “others” without your help. Errand dogs face the world without their person to act as interpreter and guardian. What if the dog pictured above was uncomfortable with women, and I hadn’t asked his person if it was okay to approach him? What if I’d walked up to the dog, not recognizing the stress signals he was throwing at me, and touched him until he was so freaked out that he bit me? It’s the dog’s fault, right? Now envision the same scenario with the dog’s person standing at his side. “I’m sorry,” the guy might have said. “My dog's a little nervous around women. Would you mind not petting him?” Tethered dogs are at the mercy of whatever walks up to them on the street, whether it’s a curious toddler, a rowdy group of teens or an unsteady drunk. (Which are all possible scenarios in my town.) And that’s not taking into consideration the leashed dogs that might approach the tethered dog! Even if the tethered dog loves every dog, there’s no guarantee that the dogs that pass him with little room to negotiate will be equally friendly.
Leaving a dog tied up alone with no escape is shirking a primary dog owner’s responsibility; acting as an advocate and protector. Our friend pictured above dealt with the cold and the concern of friendly strangers with grace. His sheepish person returned my bed with a quick word of thanks. Will he tether this dog outside again? Unfortunately I think he will, but I can guarantee it won’t be outside my door the next time!