It’s Tammy’s Turn: An Open Letter from Tammy Grimes

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. 

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. 

Doogie blossomed after we got him medical care and showed him a warm bed and a little love.  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.)  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. 

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

Click here for more information about Doogie and Dogs Deserve Better.

To join Dogs Deserve Better and help get dogs off chains, click here.

Click here to read 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.

5 thoughts on “It’s Tammy’s Turn: An Open Letter from Tammy Grimes”

  1. Since when helping a dying dog has become a crime!
    Remove the judge! We don’t need this kind of “justice”
    Tammy we are with you!! What has happened to you is a SHAME.

  2. I want to get the word out – he is done! Better start packing his bags. What an idiot! I would have done the same thing that you did! Some day that “Judge” will have the same thing happen to him. KARMA

  3. I have watched six and a half months while my neighbors in a nice neighborhood have tied their dog in their back yard. I tried to speak up on Jan. 26,09 when it was sleeting and temp was dropping rapidly to around 20 degrees. I emailed them and they got mad at me saying I should stay out of their business. Part of fence is wrought iron and they didn’t want to make it look ugly by putting something up to pick small rat terrier from getting out. Small plastic dog house was in muddy area and woman said kept light on him when cold to keep him warm. I observed and there was no light. Two wks ago I went to fence in rain, thunder and lightening and little dog was lying in mud and shaking something terrible. I tried to talk to him but he would not even look at me. Made no effort to go to dog house. Woman had told me they wanted to find a place for him as had new house dog and did not want this one anymore. I tried to find a place for dog and this weekend called owner to tell her I had found a place. In the end she said I had been hounding her about the dog and trying to get them to get rid of him for over a year. Nothing has been accomplished but hard feelings. They say he has food, water and a house and feel that no abuse has taken place. These people are supposedly upstanding people in the community. Now I am the bad person for trying to help this poor dog. I wish they could have taken his place for just 24 hours. I would have loved to see how they felt after that. Now they are mad at me and say they have found a place for Scooter but in past have not been truthful so I really don’t know what has happened to him. It just breaks my heart and I know I will be the talk of this small town, Bonham,Tx. I can handle that however. I just tried to do the right thing. I do not know what to do now as there seems to be no laws in this town to back people trying to help these poor helpless animals. This is a shortened version of story but is truly heartbreaking. It’s bad enough to see what they have done to this poor, precious animal and even worse that they look at it as being perfectly alright to do. Something is very wrong here.

  4. Tammy I want to thank you for doing the right thing. You stepped up when no one else would for this poor dog. I only hope if I am in the same situation as you I have the guts to do the same. No dog, or any other animal deserves to be treated poorly. Thank you again. Here’s to a future with stricter animal abuse laws. Keep making noise everyone, one day the gov’t will see they are wrong by not sticking up for these animals and will pass the laws we need to keep them safe!

  5. Thank you for having the guts to do what you think is best. I live in a rural part of Pa and see many things I’ve never seen before. I call the Animal Rescue League when necessary and they always come out. the Mennonites in this are are the worse and I don’t care if people are “mad” at me. Doing what you know is right is the best reward. Keep up the good work!!!

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