Living in cities my entire life, I had no idea how prevalent “backyard dogs” are in rural communities across the U.S. or what life is like for them. When I visited PETA’s headquarters—the Sam Simon Center in Norfolk, Virginia—to spend time helping animals in the surrounding area, I was shocked to see some of the “outdoor dogs” who are forced to live outside 24/7, in all weather conditions.

If you drive around northeastern North Carolina, you can see the difference that PETA has made for countless dogs who are kept as lawn ornaments and cheap burglar alarms. Doghouses built and delivered by the group are everywhere. In some communities, there was a PETA doghouse filled with straw bedding (straw won’t freeze in the winter like wet blankets will) in nearly every backyard.

During my few days out in the field, I met dozens of “outdoor dogs.” I expected them to be angry and mean from being neglected, but they were so sweet and ecstatic to receive attention and affection.

Some were terrified of humans but quickly warmed up after we gave them some treats and played with them. It puzzles me that someone would choose to get dogs only to chain them up outside and forget about them. I was so glad that we were there to help them.

These are just a few of the animals I can’t stop thinking about:

Pup Pup

We found terrified Pup Pup surrounded by garbage and chained to an abandoned truck top in someone’s backyard.

His chain was so short that he could hardly move more than a few steps, and he had no shelter, bedding, or fresh food or water. While PETA’s fieldworkers always encourage people to let their animals live indoors and make them a part of the family, unfortunately, chaining dogs is legal in some areas, and owners can’t always be persuaded to change their ways. So the fieldworkers do what they can to give animals the best lives possible.

The next day, after transporting a pit bull (who PETA neutered for free) to a home nearby, we stopped to check on Pup Pup and give him some much-needed tummy rubs. The moment he saw us, he had the happiest tail wag and biggest smile.

I’m sure he was hungry (his owner had been feeding him canned beans), but he didn’t even eat the food that we gave him right away because he didn’t want to leave our sides. Like all dogs, all he wants is someone to love and play with him and to be allowed to live indoors.

PETA’s fieldworkers will continue to check on Pup Pup.

Coco

After taking home another pit bull PETA neutered for free, we noticed that the neighbors had dogs chained outside. We got permission to enter the property and found an emaciated pit bull named Coco, who’s blind in one eye.

Her owner had been using this sweet girl as a breeding machine. Her pen was filthy. Feces were everywhere, and her drinking water was green. Thankfully, we were able to persuade the owner to let us take Coco for a much-needed veterinary assessment.

Six Dogs in One Backyard

One of the more difficult parts of my trip was when we stopped by a home to check on six dogs who were chained and penned in a backyard. We also picked up a cat who lived at the property to be spayed for free.

We were hoping the owner would let us take a pit bull who was very thin even though he had been eating, which is often a sign of heart failure or any number of other deadly conditions. The fieldworker I was with mentioned that they were able to persuade the owner a couple of weeks before to let PETA take one dog—who, with the help of a local animal shelter, ended up being adopted and now lives indoors.

Thankfully, the owner finally agreed to let us take the pit bull.

Unfortunately, there are still five other dogs stuck on that property who are able to look at each other but never play, cuddle, or run together because they’re kept tied up. I can’t image what their living conditions would be like if PETA’s fieldworkers didn’t routinely check on them and provide them with doghouses, straw bedding, food, water, toys, and the attention they desperately crave.

Two puppies on the property were being chained or penned outside 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When I was there, their drinking water was frozen. 🙁

We filled each dog’s house with more straw bedding (to soak up some of the muck and prevent them from stepping in it), treated them for worms, and gave them plenty of treats. My heart broke when I realized that they almost certainly wouldn’t receive any attention until PETA’s fieldworkers came again to visit.

PETA’s fieldworkers can’t be present in every community, but together, we can help more “backyard dogs” like Pup Pup, Coco, and the others I saw when I was out in the field. Here’s how:

1. If a chained dog’s life is in danger or a dog is chained in an area where chaining is illegal, call the authorities.

Many counties and cities have bans on keeping dogs chained or penned—check this list or look up your local laws on Municode.com. Even if your area doesn’t have such a law, it’s required that “backyard dogs” at least have a shelter, adequate food, and clean water, and they must be provided with veterinary care if they’re sick or injured.

If a dog is in imminent danger—for example, if the animal is emaciated, is obviously ill or injured, or has no shelter or can’t access it—notify animal control or the police immediately.

2. If chaining is permitted in your area and you know of chained dogs who aren’t in an emergency situation, your best bet at improving their life is to befriend the owner. 

Be super-polite and friendly. Without being confrontational, talk to the owner about the dogs’ needs and ask for permission to do the following:

  • Take them for walks.
  • Give them toys and treats.
  • Visit with them regularly. (But be careful not to become a nuisance. Follow your instincts based on the owner’s response to your involvement.)
  • Help with grooming, such as trimming the dogs’ nails or taking them to the vet.

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