LEWISTON – Steve Blais spent Saturday tethered to a big maple tree on his lawn, tied by a cord that ended in a loose nylon collar around his neck.
It was uncomfortable. (A neighbor felt bad and brought him a cushion to sit on.) It was lonely, but mostly, it was boring.
It was all so he could imagine how a dog would feel.
Blais, tied up on Louise Avenue, was the only person in Maine to participate in the national Chain Off 2007, an annual event of the nonprofit Dogs Deserve Better to bring attention to the plight of dogs left outdoors all the time, and too often ignored.
In all, 108 people in 35 states did the same, for varying lengths of time. Blais stayed out from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
His wife, Erin, spent 24 hours outside for the event last year, crawling into a too-short kennel at night with her sleeping bag. She has a 10-week-old baby this year. It was Steve’s turn.
He set up that kennel, with a blue tarp, on the front lawn, with a card table for donations and lawn chairs for visitors.
From inside the house, two dogs wagged their tales and barked at strangers through a screen door.
One of those dogs, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix named Kelsey, got them involved with Dogs Deserve Better. Erin saw a DDB flier for Kelsey at doggy daycare; the dog was at a shelter in Kentucky that euthanized animals who stayed too long. The couple decided their chocolate lab, Brady, needed a friend.
Steve Blais said he’d gotten questions like, “What about when I go to work? I have to put the dog outside.”
That’s fine, Blais said, but, “When you get home, bring the dog in the house.”
He’d gotten visits from family and co-workers at Maine Oxy and raised more than $300 by 3 p.m.
Susanna Richer, a Portland resident who’s one of four DDB state reps, said it’s more prevalent to find dogs perpetually tied out in rural areas.
Animals chained 24/7, “for the most part, they don’t receive regular vet visits, they don’t receive regular feeding and often their water bowls are overturned,” Richer said. “It really makes the dog open to predators, whether they be animals or human.”
Many become afraid of everything, and “fear can turn to aggression,” she added.
“A lot of people who chain their dogs don’t realize (the effects,) it’s not that they’re mean or bad people. It’s what their parents did, it’s what their grandparents did, it’s how they know dogs.”
Two years ago, animal rights supporters successfully lobbied the Maine Legislature to set standards for dogs left outdoors more than 12 hours a day. Dog houses have to have raised floors, waterproof roofs and four walls, and tethers have to be five times the length of the dog’s body. Exceptions were made for arctic breeds like sled dogs, Richer said.
This spring they weren’t successful trying to add to those standards by stipulating a collar loose enough to slip through two fingers, no choke chains and at least three hours off the tether a day. That bill died.
Blais ate his meals out by the tree Saturday and gave himself quick bathroom breaks inside. He was surprised how slowly the time passed.
“I thought it would be easy to sit here for 12 hours,” he said. “I actually thought of taking my watch off so I would stop looking at it.”
Erin said she remembered how weird it felt last year to get excited when she heard a screen door slam – it meant someone was coming by to keep her company.