On September 11, 2006, I rescued a dog that was dying at the end of a chain in a muddy yard in a small Pennsylvania town. I was subsequently arrested. A little over a year later, on December 15, 2007, I was convicted of theft and receiving stolen property.
The last year has been the most traumatic and the most inspirational of my life. I have been labeled a "terrorist" a "vigilante", a "publicity hound" and an "anarchist." I have been called a hero. I have been humbled by encouragement and well wishes from people all over the world. I have been attacked in person and in print in my small town, where the prevailing view is that it is fine and dandy to tie a dog to a tree or a dog house and leave it to pace back and forth for year after agonizing year, in skull-cracking cold or 100-degree weather, with nothing but parasites for company.Â
I don’t regret what I did. Not for one second. And when it comes to rescuing dogs and changing minds and laws, I’m just getting started. Here’s why.
The dog at the center of all this, a dog we would eventually name Doogie, had been lying in the mud and rain for three days, chained to the dog house he had been attached to for years. He was unable to stand and was pawing the air in desperation. His owners chose to go four-wheeling and to work on Monday instead of getting him the vet help he needed and deserved, but most importantly was entitled to by law. A distraught neighbor had called animal control repeatedly over the course of the three days. But as so often happens, no "humane" officer called back. No one ever showed up. (Surprised? Trust me, it happens all the time, and not just in my town.) The frantic neighbor eventually reached out to me and to Dogs Deserve Better.
What I did next set in motion a chain of events that would eventually garner national attention, the wrath of some, the support of others, and an agonizing trial during which I had to listen to lies and mischaracterizations for three days: I removed that dog’s chain and I took him to the veterinarian. It was all very clear to me as I lifted the emaciated, wet dog into my van. I had been in animal rescue long enough to know that I would probably be labeled the villain while the dog’s caretakers wouldn’t even be questioned for leaving a suffering dog on the ground for three days, not to mention all the years they tied him to a shabby box in the yard; letting his toenails to grow so long they were curling back toward his pads, denying him vet care when he most needed it.
But I also knew that what I was doing was morally correct. It was the compassionate thing to do. It was the only thing I could do. Time was of the essence.. A dog was suffering. I felt he was dying.
In court, it became increasingly clear that our ‘humane officer’ left me "holding the bag," in this case little more than a bag of bones. He had been offered the dog by me as part of what should have been a cruelty case against the caretakers 2 times on September 11th, but ignored me both times. On the witness stand the officer, in an attempt to cover his own hide, stated he told me and the vet assistants not to remove Doogie from the vets. This is absolutely untrue, and if he had done so I would not have been put in the position of choosing between Doogie’s skin and my own.
So, now I’m guilty. Ah yes, guilty of caring about a dog that had been left to die. Guilty of putting myself and my reputation on the line because I can’t stand to see suffering.. Yes, call me guilty.
At Dogs Deserve Better, we see dogs in horrific situations every day. Sometimes these sad animals are neurotic or aggressive from years at the end of a chain. Sometimes, they are half-starved or have collars embedded in their necks. Sometimes they are dead. So, why go out on a limb for one old dog? Why take a moral stand in this one instance? Why challenge a law, when Dogs Deserve Better has stuck to the letter of the law in almost 1,000 rescues to date?
The answer is simple: because it was the right thing to do. Because our laws regarding personal property and animal welfare are contradictory and archaic. Because Michael Vick can’t kill his dogs, but the Arnolds can. Because, at the end of the day, I knew I simply couldn’t live with myself if I walked away from that dog and left him to suffer there in the mud.Â
Doogie blossomed after we got him medical care and showed him a warm bed and a little love.Â He not only walked again, but actually ambled around with a spring in his step. Imagine. A dog that for many years could not take more than a few steps before being yanked back by a chain, was trotting around a yard and enjoying soft hands and a warm home!
I have no illusions about my life’s work. I know some people will never get it. I know some people think "it is just a dog." I know some people consider me the representation of all that is evil because I have compassion for animals and because in one isolated incident, where the clock was ticking and life was ebbing, I took someone’s "property" — property that the owners had for all intents and purposes abandoned on the ground like a used-up piece of junk. But I don’t care what my detractors think because I now know that I have more support, more friends, more allies, than I ever dreamed possible.
The support I have received during the last year has made me stronger in my convictions and more steadfast in my work. I know that the vast majority of reasonable, educated, compassionate people believe that it is barbaric beyond imagining to chain a dog for its life. I know that anti-tethering laws will continue to be passed in states, cities and counties across this country. ("No-brainers" a recent news article called these laws.)Â And I’m going to work harder than ever to make sure that happens.
Five years ago, when I started Dogs Deserve Better, people laughed in my face when I talked about laws against chaining. Today, three states have passed laws that severely limit the practice, as have hundreds of cities and counties, some banning chaining altogether. I know that I will see the day when our society sees tying a dog to a doghouse for 15 years as abhorrent as eating a dog.
Oh yes, make no mistake: times change and morality and compassion eventually triumph over ignorance and stupid, blind habit. Slavery ended. Women got the right to vote. Wife beating is no long accepted. You don’t see a lot of kids working in mines or sweat shops anymore. Even dog fighting was made a crime.Â
I can’t help but think about Rosa Parks. We can be sure she never regretted refusing to budge from that Montgomery bus seat. And though I may never be as brave as she was, I’ll never regret taking a half-dead dog from someone’s yard.
In memory of Doogie. May he rest in peace.-Tammy Grimes, December 17, 2007
To join Dogs Deserve Better and help get dogs off chains, click here.
Click here to readÂ more about this case and how you can support Tammy’s efforts by calling on Governor Rendell to pardon her and urging Pennsylvania legislators to pass the anti-chaining bill, H.B. 1065.