Transgender activist helps neglected dogs in film ‘Break the Chain’

Edith adored people, yet she spent most of her life isolated. Chained outdoors for nearly a decade, her long black fur became dingy and matted, but her spirit never dimmed.

Whenever I visited to give her food, clean water, toys, and treats, Edith flopped onto her back for a tummy rub, soaking in every moment of affection.

It was painful having to walk away then, leaving her alone again. But PETA never gave up, and one day, Edith’s life would change forever.

Edith is one of the dogs whose stories are told in “Breaking the Chain,” a new documentary from executive producer Anjelica Huston. It follows PETA’s field team, which I’ve been a part for 13 years, and the animals we help every day.

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For people who aren’t familiar with the impoverished areas of Virginia and North Carolina that we serve, the conditions we find dogs in may come as a shock. Many dogs are chained amid piles of junk, with nothing but a piece of plywood or an old mattress for “shelter.”

Some languish with grapefruit-sized tumors. Others have dirty puddles as their only source of water to drink. We’ve found dogs who were left chained or penned outdoors through hurricanes, with no escape from rising floodwaters.

“Life” on a chain or in a pen is no life at all, especially for social beings like dogs. That’s why PETA works so hard to persuade people to let their dogs live indoors and to treat them as family members — or to let us give them a chance at a better life.

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That’s what we did for Raven. She had faithfully stayed by her guardian’s side as she lay dying of cancer. But afterward, the woman’s son kept Raven chained outdoors, with nothing but a wire crate covered with a piece of plywood to huddle under.

She was soaking wet, almost blind, and extremely arthritic when we found her. Thankfully, Raven’s owner allowed us to take her, and after surgery to remove 22 rotten teeth, Raven spent the rest of her days with me, enjoying time with her new canine “siblings” and savoring the treats she loved.

If there are chained or penned dogs in your community, politely ask their owners if you can give them toys or treats, take them for walks, or give them straw bedding for insulation. If you see a dog in immediate danger or lacking shelter, food, or water, call the police and/or animal control.

Watch “Breaking the Chain” (available on-demand at  Amazon, iTunes, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, and Vimeo) and share it with your friends and family to encourage them to help dogs in their communities.

And if you’re wondering if one person can really make a difference (spoiler alert: Yes!), let me tell you about Miss Willie.

We’d been visiting Miss Willie for over a decade. One day, we found her coughing, wheezing, and so weak that she could barely stand up, but she was still chained outdoors. Her body was ravaged by end-stage heartworm disease, lung tumors, two tick-borne diseases, and other ailments. Finally, her owner surrendered her to PETA.

I was determined to make Miss Willie’s remaining days the happiest of her life. Together, we checked off everything on her “bucket list,” including a canoe ride, a beach day, “taco Tuesday,” a professional massage, and her first birthday party.

Miss Willie peacefully passed away 16 days later, surrounded by people who loved her.

Every dog deserves that kind of love and care, and that’s why PETA’s field team and I are determined to break the chains for dogs like Edith, Raven, and Miss Willie.

About the author

Jes Cochran

Jes Cochran, who identifies as transgender, is a field operations manager with PETA.

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