Giving an abused dog a new leash on life

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2001

UNALASKA (AP) -- It was a routine police call. Dog-at-large. A mid-sized, black dog had been spotted about town dragging close to 20 feet of chain. Yet when the officer approached the dog, he hesitated.

''Chubby'' was well known to the police department as a potentially vicious dog. The 7-year-old dog had lived most its life staked out at the end of that 20-foot chain. The police only knew him in the context of its tiny 40-foot-wide world, which it fiercely defended.

But this dog was anything but vicious. When it was taken into custody, the secret behind its snarling demeanor was finally exposed. The choke chain had been there so long that it had actually grown into the skin of Chubby's neck. A wide band of festering, infected tissue surrounded the wound.

''It is the worst case of its kind I have ever seen,'' said Dr. Kenneth Hill of the Camai Veterinary Clinic here.

Hill surgically removed the collar, and last week Chubby's former owner tearfully pleaded guilty to a charge of cruelty to animals.

Lorraine Swinney was ordered to pay the veterinary bill, court fees, impound and license charges -- a total of $1,085. She also got two years of probation.

Chubby is already well on the road to recovery. Chasing a ball around the fire trucks inside the Public Safety building, Chubby appeared to be a very happy dog.

''This dog has come so far in the such a short time,'' said police dispatcher Collette Lieberg. ''When he first came, he wouldn't make eye contact or look up at you. His head was down all the time. He was suffering. But now look at him -- he is such a sweet dog.''

Lieberg has volunteered many hours of her own time to care for Chubby, taking him for walks and playing with him. ''I don't think he had any toys before,'' she said. ''He didn't know what to do with the first ball I gave him. Now he plays like a puppy.''

Now the search is on for a good, stable home. Lieburg believes Chubby would do best in a setting where he is the only dog, for his years of being staked out have left him with territory issues. He has taken well to being walked on a leash while wearing a harness, and has an appointment to be neutered.

Chubby's plight, while extreme in the extent of his injuries, is not that uncommon. You don't have to look far to find another dog living at the end of a chain, staked out and largely forgotten in this town.

A dog at the end of a stake has no other animal to keep it warm in the winter, no one to play with, no control over its food and little exercise, Hill said. Such a dog can become very territorial, protecting its small bit of earth.

''Neglecting an animal is an unhealthy thing for both the person and the animal,'' Hill said. ''It may seem obvious, but it's not obvious to everyone. Take care of your animals, so they can take care of you.''

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