My neighbors have a dog who stays in their backyard all day and night, and in every kind of weather. We never see anyone interacting with him and he seems so bored and lonely. He does have water, food and an old, falling-down doghouse, but that’s about it. Is there anything that we can do to help?
Worried in Woodland Heights
There are two basic ways to improve the life of a “backyard dog.” In some situations, a quick call to law enforcement is all that’s necessary. In others, it’ll be up to you to build a relationship with the dog’s guardian and get permission to visit and care for the animal. Every case will be different, so carefully assess the situation before you get started.
It sounds like this dog’s very basic needs are (technically) being met and, unless he’s chained, there’s not much that animal control could do in this situation. Sadly, not everyone regards their pets as members of the family, as most of us do.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggests that your best chance of helping dogs in non-emergency situations is likely to befriend the dog’s guardians.
Using anything other than a polite approach will probably make them angry and hurt your chances of making a difference. You may be pleasantly surprised—sometimes guardians help their animals themselves after just one conversation.
Begin by talking to owners about what their dogs need. Avoid being confrontational. Consider starting the conversation by talking about your experiences with your own dog or by mentioning that you recently learned some new facts about dogs.
You can remind your neighbor that dogs need a sturdy shelter. When the temperature drops below 45 degrees, straw (available at feed stores) must be placed inside doghouses in order to keep dogs warm. Blankets, clothing, and towels only make conditions worse when they get wet and freeze.
If things go well, consider doing what you can to enhance the life of the dog:
• Ask permission to take the dog for walks.
• Offer some toys to the dog (with the owner’s approval).
• Visit the dog regularly (but be careful not to become a nuisance; follow your instincts based on the guardian’s level of cooperation).
Who knows–given a little time and conversation, you might convince your neighbor to spend some more time caring for their pet. Worst case, the neighbor might ask for assistance in re-homing the dog if they realize that they can’t give it the best life. At least then you’ll know that the dog stands a good chance of going to a home where it is appreciated and loved.
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