No free rein in helping chained dog

Posted Dec. 05, 2010, at 6:57 p.m.

Q. What constitutes animal cruelty involving a dog? A dog never off an 8-foot chain, poop never cleaned up, tied under a tree, given food and water every day, but that’s it. I see this dog every day and hear it whine, and it breaks my heart. How much trouble would I be in if I let it off the chain or brought it to the shelter?

A. Dogs are property and you could be facing charges if you enter the owner’s property without permission and removed the dog.

An animal shelter would not be able to accept the dog if you told staff there you had illegally removed the dog from the owner’s premises. Moreover, you could be putting yourself and others in serious danger as you do not know what the dog would do. The dog may attack and bite or run into the street where he or she may cause a serious accident or get hit.

Dogs are social animals, and it is difficult for most people to watch a dog living in the conditions you describe.

The law, however, does not require a dog to be exercised or socialized. But it does require that the owner, or owner’s agent, provide the dog with necessary sustenance including water, necessary veterinary care, proper shelter, protection from the weather and humanely clean conditions.

In addition to those minimum standards, for dogs confined by tethering for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour time period, specific shelter and chain or tether requirements apply — including a fully enclosed shelter of sufficient size and access, well-fitted harness or collar, and a minimum chain or tether length.

In addition, special provisions apply to sled dogs and dogs used in competition. The standards for dogs confined by tethering for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period can be accessed at www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/7/title7sec4015.html.

Self-help is not an appropriate action in this case.

Begin by asking the town or city clerk where the dog is located for the name and contact information of the animal control officer. Then contact the offices and provide as much information as you can, including the name of the owner if you know it, the address, a description of the dog, and request that he or she investigate whether the owner is in compliance with the minimum requirements for sustenance, veterinary care, shelter and humanely clean conditions.

This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. E-mail AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader.

Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329 will be forwarded to the LRIS.

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