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Organization holds chain off to advocate animal rights

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Posted: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 12:00 am

Bernie Campbell does not go looking for mistreated dogs -but she is not about to look the other way.

Campbell didn't intend to buy a small white mutt resembling a Jack Russell terrier at the Chiefland, Fla., flea market four years ago.

But she couldn't walk away from the trembling creature pressed against the back of the miniature metal prison.

Instead, she paid the owner $50 and bailed her new pet out of flea market confinement.

On Saturday, Pearl, the once frightened mutt, roamed freely around Northside Park in Gainesville, sniffing the ground, chewing on sticks and dragging a dangling leash behind her.

Park rules say dogs need to be on a leash, said Campbell, who sits Indian-style on a silver mat on the ground.

They don't say anything about owners being on the other end, she laughs, jingling the silver-link chain attached to a black collar around her neck.

Although Pearl wanders unhindered, Campbell sits tethered to a tree. For eight hours on Saturday, Campbell, 49, and two friends chained themselves to trees to raise awareness against tethering animals. This is Campbell's second year participating in the Chain Off, sponsored by Dogs Deserve Better, an organization working to improve treatment of dogs.

From June 27 to July 7, animal advocates staged chain offs for the sixth year nationwide, using Independence Day as a platform for change.

"We're celebrating our independence, now we're fighting for theirs," Campbell said.

Chained dogs are often neglected of basic needs and socialization and are more likely to become dangerous, Campbell said.

Since last year's Chain Off, Alachua County passed an ordinance that limits the time a dog can be tethered to three hours a day.

Although Campbell was happy about the ruling, she said enforcing the law is nearly impossible.

People need to take matters into their own hands and take their pets indoors for real change to take place, she said.

"It's all about getting dogs off the chain and into the family," said Campbell, who wore a yellow Chain Off T-shirt, faded from use.

Campbell and friends set up a small table with pamphlets about their cause, chatted with a few passersby playing disc golf and waved at the occasional honk of a passing vehicle.

Although the attendees at the event were few, the animal advocates did not take their commitment lightly. Trying to emulate circumstances of tethered dogs, they would only eat if someone brought food to them. The food never came.

For these avid animal lovers, who constantly put the needs of animals first, forgoing a meal is a small gesture.

Campbell considers herself the pack leader of her nine dogs. Aside from Pearl, there's Pharaoh, Febe, a pit bull named Ziggy, Destiny, Bootie (often called Boo Boo), Melly, Pickett and Harley -just like the bike.

All are mutts Campbell has rescued, and they have free reign of her fenced front and back yard and can scratch at the door to get inside.

"They do their job, and they're part of the pack. We're all just one big family," she said.

Campbell, a Navy veteran who works as a secretary, dreams of rescuing dogs full-time.

She wants to work for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and watches their reality show, Animal Precinct, on Animal Planet. The images are hard to see, but in her mind, it's training for the future.

As Campbell talks, Jonnie and James Surrett sit in chains a few feet away on small white stools and nod along.

James Surrett, 65 and retired from the Army, forgets about his leash at one point as he tries to reach a sign about 7 feet away. He's stopped about 2 feet short, the chain around his neck suddenly taut. They all laugh.

The three met at the American Legion in Alachua County where Campbell volunteers as a bartender.

"We're all cut from the same cloth," Campbell said.

The Surretts were supposed to move to Tennessee before the Chain Off, but they postponed the move instead.

They have three Shih Tzus, Charity, Pepper and Alesis, and all are allowed indoors.

"If you don't want an animal, don't get an animal," said Jonnie Surrett, 61. "If you want a lawn ornament, go get one."

For the Surretts, standing up for animals is a way of life.

They became vegetarians about six months ago.

"We can't even think of consuming an animal," Jonnie Surrett said.

Along with their diet, the Surretts have been known to stage their own animal rescues.

When they lived in a camper near the Waldo flea market, they often caught stray cats, as many as 12 cages at a time, and took them to be spayed and given shots.

Other rescues are more like secret-ops. Once at their home in Tennessee, Jonnie Surrett dressed in black, snuck over to a neighbor's yard at night and dug a tunnel in the dirt to get to a small kitten that was drenched after being left out in a chicken wire cage in the rain. She was covered in mud and cat feces by the end of her mission, but all she cared about was getting the cat to safety.

"You're called a radical. You're called left wingers -" she said.

"Animal psycho," Campbell interjects.

"I don't care," Jonnie Surrett said.

For Campbell, a quote that she includes in all of her e-mails keeps everything in perspective: "Saving one dog may not change the world, but it's going to change the world for that one dog."

Cliché -maybe.

Pearl may think otherwise.

Welcome to the discussion.