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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Group Helps Family Dogs Stay Safe And Untethered

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Juventino Guijosa and his dog, Sisi.

Oregon canines will be howling an unchained melody starting in January. That's when a new law takes effect that makes it illegal to tie up your dog too long.

One volunteer organization is helping dog owners avoid the upcoming penalties by building fences to give dogs room to roam.

Juventino Guijosa keeps his dog, Sisi, on a chain behind his Salem house. She's a mix between a black Labrador and a chow chow.

"She's a very good dog," says Guijosa. "I like to let her spend some time outside here, and not stick her inside so much."

Guijosa's yard doesn't have any fences, so keeping Sisi on a chain is the only way he can make sure she doesn't run off. But it also makes her vulnerable. One night in September, two neighborhood dogs attacked.

"I yelled at them, I threw water, and nothing," Guijosa recalls. "One grabbed her by the head, the other bit her all over here on both feet."

It was the second time Sisi had been attacked. And the vet said enough.

"I didn't think Sisi was going to survive a third attack," says Arlene Brooks. She treated the dog for puncture wounds to her legs, and fended off a bacteria infection that was taking over Sisi's entire body.

"And it was a two-and-a-half hour procedure to get the wounds cleaned up and even the plastic surgery to cover one of the elbows that was frankly missing skin."

Brooks took it on as a charity case since she knew the Guijosa family couldn't afford it. She also knew they couldn’t afford to build a fence so that Sisi could run free in the backyard without having to worry about being attacked.

But under the new Oregon law, tethering because you can't afford a fence is no excuse. And violators could face a fine of up to $1,000.

But there's help for Guijosa and others who don't have enough money to build a barrier. A Portland non-profit called Fences for Fido constructs fences for people who can't afford to build their own. The group's Nadya Vera visited the Guijosa house to plot out the location for their new fence.

Vera says Sisi's story is far from unique. But she says chains aren't good for dogs for reasons that go beyond self-defense.

"The dog is either going to become either depressed or he or she is going to become aggressive in trying to protect him or herself."

The new Oregon law still allows dogs to be tethered but puts a ten-hour daily limit on the practice. California has an even stricter limit. But several recent attempts to pass legislation in Washington state were turned back.

Opponents say dog owners should be allowed to decide what's best for their animals.

"I would hope that people could look beyond the emotion and look at what's best for the dog," says Liz Parrish, who trains sled dogs near Klamath Falls.

Parrish won't be affected by the law since it specifically exempts sled dogs. But she says dog owners need to have as many tools as possible to protect their animals. She says sometimes fences just don't cut it.

"When I lived in suburbia, I can't tell you how many times I found a dog wandering the streets," says Parrish. "And I would take it home and I would figure out who it belonged to and I would take it back to the person. And yeah, they could just as easily have gotten hit or stolen."

Fences for Fido says the barriers it builds are high enough to keep most canines from escaping. And the group's Nadya Vera says while dog owners can be fined, the goal isn't to penalize people who think they have no other choice.

"With this law, they can educate the person who has a dog and say look, the law specifies that there's a limit in the amount of time that a dog can be chained."

One thing that's still allowed? Putting your dog on a leash to take it for a walk.