Release the Hounds!

When I was growing up, I was very afraid of dogs. I wasn’t allowed to have pets, but I had lots of friends who had dogs and there were lots of dogs in my neighborhood. The dogs were never in the house. I remember being told that we couldn’t pet the dog because he would bite, and that was as common as being told we couldn’t have ice cream before dinner.

Growing up in Nebraska, I was also taught that dogs were dirty and carried lots of “bugs”. This was probably true, as the weather is perfect for fleas and heartworms, and all of the dogs I knew lived outside. I’d never heard any mention of regular flea treatments or vet visits. The vet is where you took the dog when it was sick or “needed” to be put down.

The dogs of my childhood existed behind fences and at the ends of chains. They were always barking, lunging and seeming to say, “If I get loose, you’re in big trouble.” I was chased by many dogs on my bike, pedaling as fast as I could and never breathing until the dog reached the edge of his imaginary territory and turned back.

Walking home from school, my friends and I were terrified if we saw a loose dog. In fact, it was something we were always on the lookout for. We didn’t dream of calling a dog to us, but rather hoped we could change course before he saw us. Dogs were to be avoided like strangers and yellow jackets.

To this day, I have an irrational fear of Dobermans (I’m always working on this). In the trailer court where I grew up, there were many a seedy character who had Dobermans in their house, banging and lunging against windows as we passed by. We would watch the flimsy plexiglass-type windows bow and shake, just waiting for it to burst and release the hounds.

One day, this actually happened. I was sitting on my back porch, as the Dobermans in the next trailer over were roaring at me through the window. This happened every day, and by now I was fairly confident that they couldn’t break out. Suddenly, the entire window pane pushed out of the side of the house and two large dogs leapt to the ground, heading straight for me. I was able to stand up and get inside the back door in time to feel them slam themselves against it and knock me to the floor. I was eight years old.

Today I know that these were not bad dogs, at least they probably didn’t start out that way. The dogs who jumped out the window, the dogs who chased me on my bike, the dog who bit my best friend in the face and even the dogs who barked all night long despite their owner throwing pots and pans at them to shut them up...they all probably started out as perfect pups.

Many of those dogs could have been the same dogs I see now in my daycare. They could have been the same dogs that are now doing agility, playing at the dog park and earning their CGC certificates. The difference is that the dogs I see today have owners who are better educated on how to bring up a well-socialized, well-trained dog. The dogs I see today are part of a family, part of a community.

I know that we’ve come a long way since my childhood, but I still have nightmares about trying to get through small spaces with a lunging, snarling dog at the end of chain just inches from my face. I know that for many dogs the isolation at the end of a chain is still very much a reality. Many dogs are still living solitary lives behind fences and would be left to defensive or aggressive action if they ever found themselves free. This makes me angry.

My anger today is toward the human owner who is supposed to be responsible for the well-being of the dog. I always hope that their actions are ruled by ignorance instead of cruelty. Ignorance can be remedied with education, cruelty is a deeper issue. Cruelty can easily be the result of fear. So I am especially concerned for children growing up as I did, in neighborhoods where it is easy to learn that dogs are disposable, unworthy and dangerous beings that must be chained, can be abused and should be avoided.

I am thrilled to have found some like-minded people who are trying to make a difference through education. If you would like to educate other dog owners who still believe that dogs should be relegated to a chain in the backyard, please visit

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