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Soar: Freeing dogs' spirits

Despite the chain that yanked her neck painfully whenever she moved more than a few feet and despite the nagging hunger pangs, the black mixed-breed dog remained sweet-natured.

Her owners never took her for a walk, never spent time with her, never brought her inside to get warm, never gave her enough to eat. Lonely and malnourished, she grew so thin that her ribs showed.

One day, the dog's luck changed. Carrying a bowl of dog food, Tracy Miller and Mary Ann Fugate walked slowly into the back yard where Dora was chained. At the sound of their voices, the dog's tail wagged hopefully. She craved their attention almost as much as the food she devoured.

Later, Miller and Fugate learned the dog's name, Dora, and that her owners, facing eviction, didn't have the money to buy dog food or fencing, so they chained Dora so she wouldn't run away. They persuaded the owners to let them take Dora so she could have a better life.

Now, Dora — spayed, housebroken and healthy — is up for adoption. She's a testament to the work of Miller and Fugate, officers in the newly formed rescue group SOAR (Speak Out and Rescue), which works to educate dog owners against chaining dogs.

The non-profit organization has more than 700 people on its mailing list and that many names on a petition for an anti-chaining ordinance in Lexington. Miller, a pet groomer; Fugate, the owner of Happy Tails pet-sitting service; and Stephanie Bramblet, a state worker, build dog fences and lend dog crates to low-income families. They also offer to find better homes for chained dogs.

They can rattle off the facts:

■ Chaining or tethering a dog is considered inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled in 1997 that people and organizations regulated by the Animal Welfare Act cannot keep dogs continuously chained.

■ The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that chained dogs are much more likely to bite. Dogs are social by nature and need interaction with people and other animals. Deprived of that contact, they become neurotic, anxious and aggressive.

■ Tethered dogs can be choked when their chains catch on objects. Their necks, if rubbed raw, can become infected.

SOAR, based in Georgetown, is working with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council to make it illegal to chain an unattended dog. More than 100 cities, including Tucson, Ariz., and Austin, Texas, have enacted some type of anti-chaining law, the SOAR founders say. They hope that area counties will follow Lexington's lead and consider or enact similar laws.

They also want the Lexington council to consider a law that would set a minimum shelter space allotment of 150 square feet per dog.

"We don't want dogs unchained and then stuck in cages," Fugate said.

Nathan Bowling, director of Lexington-Fayette County Animal Care and Control, said the agency has received about 60 calls in the past 12 months about chained or tethered pets. Because there is no ordinance against chaining, there is little that animal control can do.

SOAR members say they have found chained dogs in high- and low-income neighborhoods and in rural and urban areas.

Miller said SOAR's members "are not there to shame anyone. We want to educate people and to make a difference for dogs."

Susan Malcomb, president of the Lexington Humane Society, said the agency is against chaining but has some reservations about an ordinance against chaining. She emphasized that educating the public about chaining could go a long way toward curbing the problem.

"We absolutely are against 24-7 chaining of an animal," she said. "But how do we write an ordinance that accomplishes that without chastising the well-intentioned individual that by situation or circumstance may need to temporarily tether their dog to allow for fresh air or exercise?"

Representatives from the humane society and animal control have met with a city council subcommittee to work out the details of an anti-chaining ordinance. Malcomb said that several years ago, a task force discussed the tethering of animals, but it reached no conclusions.

Meanwhile, SOAR members are going door to door in various neighborhoods to talk to owners of chained dogs. They help find homes for pets whose owners want to give them up, and they provide free fencing and other supplies for owners who can't afford them.

The group is seeking donations of fencing, straw, dog treats and chew toys to give to chained dogs and volunteers to provide foster care for dogs awaiting adoption.

Sandy Davis, spokeswoman for the Woodford Humane Society, commends SOAR for its work to educate the community.

"Their success finding new homes for the animals they rescue speaks volumes for their commitment to see that all pets are treated humanely," Davis said.