By the time you are reading this, Beaufort County will have made an important decision about how we treat our dogs.
A committee made up of seven members of County Council will have decided between two competing sets of ideas:
– Dogs are property, there is nothing wrong with keeping a dog tied up all the time, and a dog owner has a right to keep a dog tied up in the yard for its entire life.
– Dogs are living creatures who suffer when harmed, keeping a dog tied up all the time is harmful, and a dog owner assumes responsibility for keeping a dog safe and healthy, which means the dog lives in the house or in a fenced-in part of the yard.
    If this committee – the Community Services Committee – decides that it's all right to keep a dog tied up on a permanent basis, so be it. The initiative dies. The matter is no longer on the table. The dog people go back to begging for scraps of council's time and attention.
If the committee decides that dog chaining is, indeed, cause for concern, then the matter will go before County Council. A new ordinance requires three readings, so council will have to vote three times to outlaw permanent chaining. They will also have to hold a public hearing on the topic.
    This is the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of local politics, and it takes months. So don't expect changes any time soon. Getting a matter through committee is simply the first step.
    But it is not a simple step. There is bitter disagreement among council members regarding dog chaining. Some councilmen see nothing wrong with it. Others would prefer to see it go the way of other marginal cultural practices, like polygamy, slavery and the sacrificing of goats.
    The struggle to outlaw permanent chaining can be broad-brushed in several ways. Rural versus urban, backwards versus progressive, been-heres versus come-heres, poor versus rich, country versus city. And, because this is the South Carolina, you can't leave out the golden oldie of Dixieland dichotomies, Black versus White.
    So it becomes a cultural question: Do rich urban come-here Whites have the moral authority to demand that poor rural been-here Blacks change their customs?
    So, um, what happened to all of our liberal talk about the miracles of multiculturalism and the virtues of tolerance for others’ ways of being?
    It’s also a civil liberties question: Is it really wise to ask government to micro-manage human behavior by restricting the rights of dog owners? And that brings up the ever-popular slippery-slope question: If you start messing with the freedom to keep your dog the way you see fit, then where will it stop? What other liberties might be put on the chopping block?
    Yes, we could go way too far with this business of mandating individuals to keep their dogs safe and healthy. We could make it illegal to let your dog get fat. We could approve an ordinance requiring regular dental exams for dogs.  There could be severe fines for not keeping the nails clipped. How far will we go?
    I actually don’t think it will go much farther. Dog hygiene should be none of the government’s business.
    A dog’s basic living conditions, however, have a direct bearing on human health and safety. A chronically-chained dog is a threat to all who might encounter it, because it lacks the “flight” part of the fight-or-flight response. Fighting is all it knows.
    It also reflects poorly on the community. A skinny, snarling yard dog on a chain may be culturally acceptable to some, and could even be considered an aspect of the Lowcountry’s "sense of place." But it’s an aspect I’d like to edit out.
    That said, I don’t want us to Disney up the place. I’m all in favor of rough edges and authenticity and all of that. But when a custom involves the needless suffering of a living creature, it’s gotta go.
    At this point I would love to elaborate on the moral aspects of eating meat and the evils of factory farming, but I’ll save that for another time.
    Now, away from cultural stuff, and on to data.
    When politicians are studying an issue like dog chaining, their first question should be, "What does the data say?" At least that should be their first question. But honestly, I know that for some politicians the first question is, "If I support this, how many votes will I lose?"
    But getting back to the data. The problem with data on dog chaining is that there is no data.
    At least, there is no scientific data. There is plenty of public safety data like how many dogs die from being chained – whether they are choked, hung, starved, infected from ingrown collars, etc. But when I use the word data, I'm talking about the results of scientific research.
    I would like to see scientific research that answers questions like: Does permanent chaining make dogs meaner? What is the nature of dog consciousness as it relates to perpetual bondage? Is it OK to keep dogs chained up all the time as long as you give them lots of attention?
    But there will never be any such scientific research. That's because doing that research would be illegal and unethical, and any scientist worth his peer-reviewed salt wouldn't touch it.
According to the federal agency that regulates the care of animals used in research, tying up dogs is a bad thing. It is forbidden except in tightly limited circumstances. Even if the scientists wanted to do the research, there is no way the university lawyers would allow it.
    In essence, we cannot conduct research on whether chaining is harmful … because chaining is harmful.
    No matter what the outcome of the committee meeting, compassionate members of the community will continue to work to change peoples' attitudes towards animals. They will try to steer public opinion in the direction of mercy and kindness.
     And they’ll be raising money to help people build fences. So please consider helping. For more info, visit