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New Washington bill signed into law protecting tethered dogs

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The dogs were the center of attention at "Yappy Hour" Wednesday night at Ghost Runners Brewery in Vancouver. (KATU Photo)

Dog owners could face new penalties in Washington state if they tie up or "tether" their dogs in an inhumane way.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law Wednesday that would make it illegal for a person to leave a dog tethered for a reckless period of time without providing him or her with adequate access to food, water and shelter. Dogs must also be placed in a safe and sanitary area that protects them from excessive heat or cold.

Inslee said the bill spells out a number of rules and restrictions intended to reduce dogs' injuries as a result of being tethered such as making sure they're not left on a chain or rope that is so heavy it impedes their ability to sit, stand or lie down.

"Thanks for everybody working on this to take care of our best friends here," Inslee said peering at all of the dogs surrounding him at the bill signing ceremony.

Currently, Washington state doesn't have animal cruelty standards or penalties for when a dog is left tied up or tethered. The new statute would allow animal care and control officers to issue warnings or civil infractions for inhumane animal tethering.

"We think it's great," said Lisa Feder, director of operations for the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. "This bill has been on the radar for all Washington state humane societies for a long time and we're very happy to see it's finally written into law."

After the signing, the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, said the biggest benefit is that animal control officers can now step in and take corrective actions when people witness a dog tethered in an unsafe way.

"There are a lot of animals in our state, a lot of dogs in our state, that are being held in really unsafe environments that are having horrible and disfiguring injuries because of the way they're being tethered," Fain said while a dog named Coco tugged at the leash in his hand.

Animal advocates urged lawmakers to also ensure owners cannot use choke, pinch, halter or prong-type collars when tying up their animal.

Laura Clark, the executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society in Bellingham, spoke at a hearing last month and brought in a chain collar that was used to tie up a dog, which ended up becoming embedded into the dog's neck.

She said some dogs can get so tangled up in their tethers they lose limbs or die of strangulation.

"Sadly many dogs in our state are forced to live their entire lives chained or tethered 24 hours a day," Clark said at the hearing. "These chains can be heavy and short limiting a dog's ability to move, find shelter from the elements or comfortably sit or lay down."

Clark said the dog with the embedded collar named Sadie along with her 10 puppies ended up making a full recovery and were adopted from the shelter. She said legislation like this can help prevent future animal abuse and neglect.

Feder admits some people are simply accustomed to keeping their dogs outside.

"A lot of times people will say we have always kept our dog tied out," she said. "Some people also don't have the money to fence their yards."

Still, Feder believes most dog owners in southwest Washington support the new law.

Two years ago, KATU highlighted a charity called 'Fences for Fido.' The organization helps people build fences on their properties so their dogs can run free.

About 20 other states along with the District of Columbia have enacted similar dog tethering laws, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

KATU News contributed to this story.

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