Fit to be Tied

June 28, 2006

Would you stay chained to a doghouse for two weeks, weathering the bugs, rain and company of 13 other contestants, all trying to win a brand new Chevy Aveo?

Would you do it to bring attention to doggies in chains?

Brandon Richardson is up for trying. The 21-year-old construction worker from South Philadelphia heads July 1 for a park in Mundy's Corner, PA., about an hour east of Pittsburgh. He'll deposit his son with his in-laws and with his wife's blessings attempt to outlast the others, doing without without books, TV, radio, showers or cigarettes.

Contestants - and they're an array of dog lovers from around the commonwealth - get to call home or see a family member for only a half hour a day. They share four tiny port-a-johns. They sleep on the group, in bags, and must wear a collar. Some contestants have said they'd donate the car to an animal charity. Aija Nicole Gillman, 18, of Pinckneyville, Ill., explained why she's competing: She feels, "as Gandhi did, that you can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats its animals."

Tammy Grimes, founder of Dogs Deserve Better, organized the event. "One of them will walk away with a new car, but more importantly, none of them will walk away unchanged, "she says. "The knowledge they now bear may make it virtually impossible to look at a chained dog without an understanding of what it is like to be that dog."

Richardson found out about the Reality TV-style stunt from a flier placed on his car while visiting a friend in Cherry Hill. No doubt it came from Marion Churchill, an animal rights activist who runs Compassion for Camden, and helped write the New Jersey city's anti-chaining ordinance of 2001.

Richardson hadn't thought much about chaining, he says. But he has a dog, a three- or four-year-old pug named Rocky, and he got to thinking.

"They're right," he said by phone. "It's cruel to keep your dog chained up all the time. They're part of the family. You wouldn't chain your grandmother up."

No, we wouldn't.

His construction boss is giving him the time off.

Grimes describes chained dogs as a forgotten cause. "People think they have a home, but is it really a home?" she said by phone Monday. "These are dogs sitting out there living lives of confinement. The biggest problem is that they can kill children quite easily. We do this to the dogs. We leave them unsocialized and chained and they're like ticking time bombs."

Unable to lure a corporate sponsor or big donor, she raised the money for her contest through about 10,000 contributions of $3 each. Originally a couple dozen animal lovers showed interest in chaining themselves to a doghouse, but enough dropped out that no one was turned down. "People were a little more intimidated than I'd expected them to be," she said.

Not Richardson.

"Hopefully I can go the whole two weeks. The bugs and weather won't bother me. I've gone camping with the family before. I think I can last quite a while."

One slight hitch: Organizers have the park for only two weeks. Meaning, what happens if no one's dropping out?

After one week, organizers plan daily "Reality TV elimination rounds," Grimes says. "We've got to have them drop," she said. "We've got some games planned."


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