One of my favorite sketches on “The Carol Burnett Show” features the late comic genius Tim Conway doing a side-splitting impression of a dog. After being injected with a “dog serum,” he barks at the doorbell, steals food out of someone’s hand, and even licks actor Harvey Korman’s arm.
It’s a skit that anyone who has ever shared their home with a dog can relate to — and chuckle at. Dogs, with their exuberant zest for life, are capable of experiencing so much joy. But when we deprive them of everything meaningful by tethering them outdoors 24 hours a day, they experience great sorrow, too.
It might be hard for those of us who consider our canine companions family to wrap our heads around it, but this is life for countless dogs throughout Virginia. And I’m hopeful that state legislators will put an end to it in 2020.
Imagine never being able to come inside — ever — not even during subfreezing cold snaps or dangerous heat waves. Imagine spending your entire life confined to a few muddy square feet, with nothing but an overturned barrel or flimsy plastic “igloo” to “protect” you from pouring rain, sweltering sun and other elements none of us would choose to weather. Some dogs have no shelter at all or become so hopelessly tangled up in their tethers that they can’t get to it. One dog in Accomack County reportedly froze to death when her short chain prevented her from reaching even the meager shelter of her flimsy doghouse.
In the summer, helpless to escape the biting flies attracted by their waste, many chained dogs suffer from chronic, bleeding wounds — even losing bits of their ears to flystrike from the relentless bites. Denied basic veterinary care, they’re plagued with easily preventable internal and external parasites, including heartworms, which cause them to develop a racking cough when their hearts fail and their lungs fill up with fluid.
Some dogs only see their humans — the people they cherish more than anything else in the world — for a few precious minutes a day, when they come out to toss some kibble on the ground or refill overturned water bowls — if they even bother.
Stop and think about that for a minute: When dogs accidentally knock over their bowls, they might go for hours or even days without water. This can be deadly, especially in hot weather. Last summer, a chained dog in Danville died of heatstroke despite the local humane society’s efforts to save her.
Virginia recently passed a law that gives dogs some desperately needed protection, including a requirement that they have access to shade in the summer and insulating bedding and a windbreak in the winter. These are a step in the right direction, but they are not enough.
Legislators, including the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, deserve a round of applause for fighting hard to get this vital protection for dogs on the books. But we can — and should — do much better by our best friends. Several Virginia cities already have: Cape Charles, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach have banned unattended tethering of dogs and, in doing so, have taken a bold step toward preventing incalculable suffering.
Dogs, like all of us, crave affection and companionship. At the end of every show, I used to sing, “I’m so glad we had this time together” — and I meant it. Please, Virginia, help dogs say “so long” to loneliness by banning chaining statewide.
Actor and comedian Carol Burnett is starring in “An Evening of Laughter and Reflection,” which is coming to Richmond July 20.