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Dog Tethering Law: Fairfax City Council Makes Decision

Plus, the man who filed the initial complaints that sparked the whole debate details the treatment of his neighbors' dog that concerned him.

The Fairfax City Council Tuesday night debated whether to adopt stricter regulations on the tethering of dogs. (Photo: Jennifer van der Kleut/Patch)
The Fairfax City Council Tuesday night debated whether to adopt stricter regulations on the tethering of dogs. (Photo: Jennifer van der Kleut/Patch)
Correction, Jan. 17 5:46 p.m.: Councilmembers Ellie Schmidt and Jeff Greenfield were present during the work session on this issue.

Fairfax City resident Tim Parmly says, even though the Council decided not to move forward with stricter laws on dog tethering in the city Tuesday night, he will not give up fighting for more humane treatment of dogs.

Parmly said the treatment of his neighbors' dog concerned him so much that he approached the City Council last year and asked them to consider the idea of prohibiting tethering dogs in the city.

The Treatment That Concerned Him

He explained that his neighbors came home from spending the holidays out of town about a year ago with a brand-new, 8-week-old puppy that the wife of the family didn't want, but that her husband and four kids did.

At first, Parmly said they approached him—knowing that he is a licensed veterinary technician—and asked his advice on how to care for their new dog and get it acclimated to its new home.

However, it quickly became apparent to Parmly that they didn't want the dog in the house, he said.

Parmly said the dog's very first night in the home, the family chained it up in the backyard. During the night, a thunderstorm broke out and the dog howled and howled to be let in, but no one came. Finally, he said he went over into their yard and took the dog into his own home for the rest of the night.

That became the new norm, Parmly said. The family appeared not to want the dog in the house at all, and therefore would leave it chained up in the backyard for 10 to 12 hours at a time, every day. 

"They would just go off and leave it, with the expectations that if it started pouring down rain, I would bring it inside," he said.

Finally, one summer day, in intense heat last year, Parmly said he grew very concerned when the dog seemed overheated and its water bowl hadn't been refilled in a while.

"It seemed I just wasn't getting through to them, so I decided to call Animal Control and filed a complaint," he said. "I thought the dog deserved better than that."

However, proving his case was the problem, it seemed.

Reportedly, Animal Control made visits to the house, but after observing plenty of water available, space for the dog to move around freely on its tether, and the shelter of a doghouse in the yard, the officer observed no violation of the law, and after speaking with the family, said it appeared they loved their dog very much.

Parmly said even though he was the one who filed the complaint, the Animal Control officer never spoke to him, so he didn't have the chance to tell them about incidents like the night of the thunderstorm or the summer day when the dog's water wasn't refilled.

It became clear to Parmly that nothing was going to be done, so he said he even offered to pay the family $500 to sell him the dog so he could better care for it, but he said the family was angry at him for filing the complaints and therefore wanted nothing more to do with him.

City Council, Chief of Police Mull Over 'Philosophical Concern' of Dog Tethering

During a work session Tuesday night, Mayor Scott Silverthorne, the City Council and Chief of Police Rick Rappoport discussed the pros and cons of dog tethering and whether they should prohibit or adopt a stricter law regarding the practice.

Rappoport made a presentation in which he detailed the total of 12 complaints in all that have been filed with the City over the two-year period of 2012 and 2013.

Currently, the City of Fairfax's law mirrors the state's law, which mandates:

  • Sufficient space to allow the dog to stand, sit, lie, turn about, in a comfortable, normal position for the animal.
  • The tether is attached by a properly-applied collar to protect the animal from injury and prevent entanglement. 
  • The tether must not extend over an object or edge that could result in strangulation or injury.
  • The tether is at least three-times the length of the animal.

The City has the freedom to make the law stricter than the state's law if it chooses.

Rappoport also detailed every other jurisdiction in Virginia that has adopted stricter standards than the state's.

Many of the stricter standards consisted of a time restriction, which varied from allowing tethering for only one hour, as it is in Richmond, to three or four hours, such as in Alexandria, all the way up to 12 hours in Fauquier and Northampton.

Other jurisdictions such as Staunton mandate the dog must be older than 4 months old to be tethered, and Danville says tethering is not allowed when the temperature is less than 32 degrees.

"I would venture to say that when you look at some of those things, there’s probably a dog’s name and a very sad story attached to every one of those laws," Rappoport said to the Council. "You don’t get that kind of specificity without some sort of public tragedy. And they’re all different tragedies."

Rappoport also said it was his impression that many of those jurisdictions have had problems with illegal dog fighting in the past, which may explain the motivation for the stricter laws.

All in all, the Chief said the City receives far more complaints about untethered dogs than of improperly tethered dogs.

"In general, we [at the police department] believe it’s better to educate pet owners and seek voluntary compliance with the law, in particular because many people don’t know there are technical requirements," he added, such as the length a tether must be, and so forth.

Unintended Consequences

Chief Rappoport cautioned the Mayor and Council about what he called "unintended consequences" of adopting a stricter law regarding tethering.

He said, if dog owners believe tethering is not a viable option for them when they are concerned their dog may ransack their home, or jump the fence, or escape the yard—especially when they are not home—then they may feel their only choice is to do something even more extreme to contain their dog.

He showed a picture of an advertisement for a dog cage, saying that he felt tethering was a much kinder option for the animals than subjecting them to remaining in a cage for longer periods of time, which owners may opt to do if the tethering option is taken away from them.

Council Makes Its Decision

The councilmembers largely appeared to be swayed by Chief Rappoport's arguments.

Councilman Steve Stombres said he felt most comfortable deferring to the police department's judgment. He said he wanted to give the department every tool it needed to prevent cruelty to dogs, but didn't want to hand them tools they were telling him they didn't need.

Councilman David Meyer said he didn't feel the number of complaints the city received over a two-year period was indication of a widespread problem.

“Twelve complaints in 104 weeks is not a ubiquitous problem, and not ubiquitous enough to require an ordinance,” he said.

Councilman Dan Drummond agreed, adding that he would have been open to the idea of a time constraint on tethering if others were, but that he also worried about the type of unintended consequences the chief described. He also said he agreed with Meyer that the number of complaints over two years was not significant.

Councilman Michael DeMarco said he thought adding complicated, specific restrictions would be very hard for the City to enforce.

"Unless we’re willing, as a body, to prohibit tethering in total, I think coming up with a hybrid solution such as limiting it to four hours, or 10 hours, becomes almost unenforceable, and could be a nightmare for us," he said.

Speaking last, Mayor Scott Silverthorne said, "I personally feel there was probably a middle ground here, but nobody seemed to want to approach it."

Without a consensus to move forward with any additional restrictions, the matter was closed.

Parmly said he was disappointed in the Council's decision not to explore a prohibition on tethering, or even any further regulations, calling the Council as a whole "very conservative."

"It's not even just about this one dog," he said. "It's about all other dogs, in the future."

"There is more to having an animal than just 'adequate shelter, space and water.' An animal chained up 10 to 12 hours a day with little or no human contact is neglected," he continued. "Perhaps not in the way the law reads, but neglect just the same."

"I'm not going to give up though. There will be other councils," he said, referencing upcoming City elections in May.


TELL US - What do you think of Parmly's concerns over the treatment of his neighbor's dog? Do you think the City Council should have adopted stricter regulations on the practice of dog tethering? Weigh in, in the comments below.


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antob January 17, 2014 at 07:14 AM
It is not a valid and acceptable way to treat an animal or your neighbors-Herndon is not "the country". If neighbors can hear the barking then they should be required to bring the dog inside. There need to be fewer pet owners (if you like dogs you don't leave them outside like an idiot) and fewer parents in this world- it's obvious many people aren't cut out for either charge.
Animal Advocate January 18, 2014 at 04:09 AM
Absolutely shocked by the Council's decision--looking forward to elections in May, and sharing this article with many in the community!
Diana Curfiss January 20, 2014 at 10:28 AM
Mr. Parmly I thank you for trying to help that poor dog. I bet your neighbor's wouldn't like to be treated like they treat their dog. Their idea of owning a dog is cruel. If the husband wanted that puppy so much then he should of been teaching his children how to take care of it. That's a rewarding experience for children to love and train the dog. Now they see you just tie a dog up and forget it. My very young grandchildren get tickled when they get to walk their Uncle's and my dog. They take pride in walking,brushing,and feeding them. A loving tenderness experience for them. Hello neighbors and friends of this couple can't you help this poor dog. I bet there is a lot more dogs tied out and neighbors can't see the dogs. They only hear them. So the low count of reported dogs being tied out is a stupid excuse to table changing the rules.
Dane Bramage January 29, 2014 at 09:08 AM
The unintended consequences may be this issue going viral on the web. Please share this story with others. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Lexus-Project-Legal-Defense-for-Dogs/134397299923522

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