As a burgeoning rainstorm raced across Lake Monroe and south toward Sanford on July 4, Bryan Wilson sat under a tree chained to a tiny doghouse. He wasn't going anywhere as the first droplets sizzled on the asphalt of U.S. Highway 17/92; he had a point to make.
"Dogs are chained up like this everywhere," he said, taking a quick glance toward a deck of dark clouds rushing toward Sanford Paw Park. "And there's nothing they can do about it."
As most of the country spent the day celebrating independence, Wilson, along with a few supporters of the nonprofit group Dogs Deserve Better, was reminding passersby of dogs spending a lifetime in chains.
An estimated 6 million dogs in the United States live most or all of their lives on a chain. Seminole County and Dogs Deserve Better are working to change that.
Dogs Deserve Better's annual Chain Off is a weeklong event designed to raise awareness about the suffering endured by these chained dogs in the United States.
Through Sunday, July 4, hundreds of animal activists nationwide chained themselves to various fixed objects in support of suffering dogs. That included three men in Sanford who chained themselves in Sanford Paw Park from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as part of their effort to raise awareness.
Wilson was in his fourth year chaining himself down and enduring eight hours in the hot Florida sun — a fraction of what many abused dogs endure for most of their lives, he said.
That's a practice that Wilson said can leave a lifetime of consequences, taking away from dogs' natural pack instincts, making them more violent and putting the community at a "tremendous risk".
"Dogs are very social animals," he said. "By demeaning them of their human packs, they are essentially reduced from family members to lawn ornaments."
One such "lawn ornament" goes by the name of Meme, and she has become the poster child, or "poster dog", for Wilson and his fight for the ordinance. Meme is chained to her blue doghouse in Oviedo near State Road 434 and Highway 417, and Wilson said he has watched her grow up.
Wilson said he tried to talk to the owner to reconsider chaining and provide better living conditions, but the owner would not listen. Wilson now hopes that the county will intervene before something bad happens.
Law in the works
Orange County already has an animal rights law that limits the chaining of dogs. Now, after nearly four years, Seminole County might get one too.
Morgan Woodward, Seminole County animal services manager, said that an ordinance has been drafted and proposed to the Animal Control Board and is currently in review.
He said it would be similar to the Orange County ordinance that does not allow chaining between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or during extreme weather.
Following approval, it will then be reviewed by the public safety manager and then sent to the county commissioners for final approval.
Seminole County Commissioner Michael McLean said that when the ordinance is reviewed by the Commission, they have a lot to keep under consideration when looking it over.
"Not only do we want to be humane," he said. "But we have to maintain public protection."
Woodward said the ordinance does have its limitations.
"I would like to order people to spend time with their animals," he joked. "But we hope that the limited chaining laws will spark more reaction (between the owners and animals.)"
Seminole County had 504 dog bite cases from October 2008 to September 2009, Wilson said. The ordinance must be passed to ensure the safety of all the members of the community.
"Before a tragedy happens, we want [dog chaining] to stop," Wilson said.