Suzanne Carter is happy to help Athens residents get chained-up dogs into better homes.
She is part of a group — North Alabama Animal Warriors — that stepped in to help dog owners find kennels and dog houses or simply find homes for unwanted dogs after the city banned dog tethering March 1.
More and more cities are banning the practice of leaving dogs tied in yards. They consider it inhumane to leave dogs tied in one place day after day. When the city passed the ordinance, a dog owner who tethered their dog had to erect a kennel and provide a dog house and clean straw or face a fine of at least $50.
Under the ordinance, dogs weighing 30 pounds or more must be kept in an enclosure measuring at least 225 square feet. Dogs weighing 30 pounds or less must be an enclosure measuring at least 100 square feet.
So far, no citations have been issued since the ordinance passed, said Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson, whose animal control officers are responsible for notifying owners of violations to the ordinance. This is due in large part to the efforts of animal control officers advising city residents to contact NAAW for help, Carter said.
"In the city, we've done at least eight kennels," she said. "In the county, we've done at least six in the past year. Some of them were more complicated, because they have three and four dogs, so we have to make them larger."
Although the ordinance does not apply to county residents, the NAAW is happy to help get county dogs off chains, too. Since they started the group in December 2017, they have donated more than 25 dog houses to county residents.
Some dog owners have chosen to give up their dog or dogs rather than continue tethering or trying to comply with the city ordinance.
"We had nine in the city and three in the county who relinquished their dogs," Carter said.
Some of the dogs were sent to the shelter for spaying or neutering. Most of the dogs have since found permanent homes, though one dog was found to have heartworms and is undergoing treatment at a foster home. Dog owners relinquish their dogs for various reasons, Carter said.
"Sometimes they can't really afford to feed the animals," she said. "Sometimes they have a momma with puppies. Sometimes they determine they just don't want an animal."
In some cases, the dog is sent to a breed-specific shelter in another state, but before they can go, they must be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and checked for heartworms, Carter said.
When NAAW or animal control sees a dog that is tethered, they approach the owners.
If the owner wants to comply but doesn't have the money to do so, animal control gives the owner the contact information for NAAW, Carter said. She said they have only down one person, because that person was breeding and selling dogs.
The city ordinance also requires dog owners to supply clean bedding for their pets, so NAAW drops off straw when it gives a kennel or dog house. They even bring more to those who really show a need.
"So far, everyone we have helped has been appreciative," Carter said.
With more city and county pet owners moving away from tethering, Carter believes it is simply a process of education to influence more people to do so. She is also targeting children, trying to teach them when they are young.
"I have put some books out to the city school system called 'Unchain Your Heart,' so they can put them in the school libraries," she said.
She said teachers can also download coloring pages to teach kids about spaying and neutering.
Paying for the kennel materials, dog houses and straw requires donations from residents, though the group has managed to get some kennels and houses at a discounted rate. In some cases, they get kennels or houses from people who are no longer using them. Others simply donate money to NAAW so they can purchase them.
How to contact, donate
If you need help affording a kennel or dog house, send email to the group at email@example.com.
If you would like to donate so the group can continue its good deeds, go online to paypal.me/naanimalwarriors.
Visit "North Alabama Animal Warriors" on Facebook to follow their activities and recent kennel and dog house donations.