Mark and Diane Grieb didn’t feel hounded about their German shepherd until a third police visit.
On Jan. 27, two state police troopers knocked on the front door of the Griebs’ Mount Eagle home at 12:30 a.m. The troopers explained that they again had received calls about Ruger, who lives outside tethered by a long chain to a heated dog box for shelter.
The Griebs had been through the routine before.
Earlier in the month, during an extreme cold snap when overnight temperatures plunged below zero, state police twice responded to a flurry of concerned calls about Ruger.
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Both times, police inspected his straw-lined, shingled shelter, checked him and left without taking further action.
Soon after, the Griebs said, they made changes despite their belief everything was fine before.
According to them, they bought a heated dish once the state dog warden for Centre County, Tammy Owens, paid them a visit soon after the police came. The Griebs said Owens noted frozen water, a violation of state laws which stipulate pets or livestock need access to fresh water.
At the same time, the Griebs installed an extension line from their home down to Ruger’s house and placed a heated mat inside to go with his straw and door flap.
“We thought that would end it,” Mark Grieb said.
But the third police visit, which the Griebs said ended amicably like the previous ones, told them otherwise.
“That was the last straw,” Mark Grieb said.
He and his wife, who live at the end of their remote hamlet, suspect neighbors continue to call the police and spur, through Facebook, concern from local people opposed to keeping dogs outside.
“We have not had a single neighbor call us,” Diane Grieb said.
Fed up with the police visits, the Griebs want the community to know their German shepherd fares well outdoors, isn’t suffering and prefers his quarters to being inside. They contend he’s a loved pet, not neglected or mistreated.
“Just because our dog is outside doesn’t mean we don’t care for him,” Diane Grieb said.
Plenty of others disagree.
The Griebs face a wave of public sentiment against dogs chained outside, especially during the winter.
Locally, tragic cases of cruelty against dogs have raised alarm and awareness of the issue this winter. A Curtin Township outdoors dog was found dead and frozen to the floor of his shelter.
The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other animal welfare advocates condemn tethering and support anti-chaining legislation.
Chaining dogs, they say, is an inhumane practice that deprives them of social interaction and can lead to physical and psychological harm.
Pennsylvania law does not ban chaining or require dogs to be taken inside in cold weather. But two pending bills would amend the current animal cruelty statute that states, in part, that an offense occurs when an owner “deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care, or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal’s body heat and keep it dry.”
One bill, House Bill 41, would restrict overnight tethering, forbid it during extreme weather spells and specify a minimum 6-foot chain length, among other restrictions.
The other, Senate Bill 522, would prevent dogs from being kept chained and unattended for long periods if the temperature falls below 32 degrees or rises above 90.
Last May, Harrisburg jumped ahead of the curve by adopting a tethering law, one of the state’s most stringent.
The ordinance bans choke collars and chains thicker than an eighth of an inch for tethered dogs, limits restraints to temporary periods and requires owners to bring dogs inside during extreme weather advisories or in the same temperatures as SB 522 specifies.
In Centre County, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, through social media and news releases, has recommended people bring dogs inside in single-digit weather to protect them from frostbite and hypothermia. She also has urged residents to report suspected cases of dogs suffering outside.
Parks Miller, a staunch advocate for animal welfare who supports the proposed state bills, maintains that dogs should not be tethered outside, period.
But if they are under bitter conditions, she said, owners must provide adequate shelter: a box or kennel off the ground, insulated with bedding and a door flap and big enough for a dog to sit or stand but compact enough to retain body heat.
“What worked at 35 degrees no longer works at 10 degrees,” Parks Miller wrote in an opinion piece published Saturday by the Centre Daily Times. “If you cannot make their outdoor provisions safe, they need to be brought inside until the danger passes.
“Dogs may have fur coats, but they are not immune to the cold any more than a person wearing a coat would be if he or she were to sit outside on the wet, frozen ground all day.”
The Griebs said they’re meeting the law with Ruger, and shouldn’t be lumped in with abusive dog owners cited for cruelty. Ruger’s box is elevated, they point out, and the heating mat under his straw can be set up to 100 degrees.
They also said the district attorney’s stance against outdoor dogs goes beyond the law.
Parks Miller disputes both contentions.
She said the Griebs were not in compliance with the law before, and thus not responsible owners, because of the frozen water bowl. Mark Grieb, she said, admitted the frozen bowl when they spoke civilly on the phone after he called her about the initial police visits.
“We were nice enough not to cite him and allow him to rectify it,” Parks Miller said.
As for her enforcement, Parks Miller said she acted properly by telling police to get dogs moved inside during the past extreme cold spells or else issue citations. In her experience, she said, few shelters pass muster when the mercury plummets to around zero, and therefore aren’t adequate under the law.
She said police must investigate any concerns about a dog outside — as what happened in early January when troopers first went to the Griebs’ home.
“I got a tip from Facebook and passed it on to police,” Parks Miller said. “And that’s my job.”
Mark Grieb said he understands troopers have to respond to every outdoor dog call to make sure animals are safe. He just thinks more inquiries about Ruger will waste everyone’s time.
Ruger, who greets visitors with a lolling tongue and wagging tail, sleeps in a wooden, sloped-roof shelter about 6 feet long, 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. He stays on a chain roughly 25 feet long.
Grieb said he has owned several German shepherds, and believes the breed easily copes with the cold. Even so, Grieb said, the dog house keeps Ruger warm.
“That size building is capable of supporting his body heat and creating the warmth he needs to survive,” Grieb said. “The dog is better off there than a 2-car garage that’s not heated, with a wooden floor and open area.”
When he brought in Ruger overnight after the first police visit, at a trooper’s urging, the dog — who’s not housebroken — became nervous and upset as always when indoors before perking up back once outside the next morning, Grieb said.
Overall, the Griebs maintain, Ruger is a healthy and happy dog whose exercise comes not only from running around while tethered, but also from walks.
“He gets more exercise than being inside a house,” Mark Grieb said.
One trooper who visited the house said he found the dog and its shelter “perfectly fine.” The Griebs’ veterinarian in Howard, Dr. Leland Confer, said he sees Ruger regularly, and that the dog is healthy, sociable and at the proper weight, with no adverse signs of cold exposure.
Calls to Owens, the dog warden, were not returned.
Recently, the Griebs said, they had a tracking microchip implanted in Ruger. They worry someone will try to rescue him.
They’re also tired of emails such the one offering to buy Ruger because he “deserves a loving, happy, warm life.” Angry Facebook comments, including one from a person who suggested all owners of chained pets kill themselves and then “burn in hell,” upset them.
They said Ruger already leads a good life — hardly a “lawn ornament,” as one online commenter called dogs kept outside. Anyone worried, including neighbors if that’s the case, can come by and see for themselves, the Griebs said.
All they ask is for the police visits to stop.
“I just want people to leave us alone,” Diane Grieb said.