Buster had spent most of his young life all alone, chained up outside, through every type of weather. The little dog’s back was covered with bald patches, and because his owner hadn’t bothered to loosen the chain that was wrapped around his neck as he grew, it had become deeply embedded into his skin — leaving a raw, infected and extremely painful wound.

But one day, Buster’s life changed forever: His owner gave him to PETA. After receiving emergency veterinary care and plenty of TLC while he recovered, Buster was adopted by a doting family who now showers him with the affection that he was long denied.

Buster will never spend another lonely night on a chain. But countless other dogs are still out there, tethered in backyards across the country. This January — “Unchain a Dog” Month — they’re depending on us to do more than just shake our heads and say, “How sad.” They need us to step up, speak up and help them.

If you see a chained dog in immediate danger — one who is very thin, ill or injured or lacks adequate shelter, food or water — or if chaining is illegal in your area, please call police and/or animal control officials immediately. Don’t ever assume someone else will take action — you may be the dog’s only hope.

That was the case for a chained dog named Theodore. When a neighbor saw the little cocker spaniel mix being mauled by another dog who frequently attacked and even killed other dogs on the property, she immediately called the sheriff’s department. Within minutes, a deputy was on the scene. The neighbor was able to obtain custody of Theodore, and she rushed him to a veterinarian, who shaved his matted fur and treated his bite wounds. She then gave Theodore to PETA to continue his recovery until he finds a home where he will live indoors and be treated as a family member.

Many chained dogs’ living conditions are miserable but not illegal. Our best hope of helping them is to get anti-chaining legislation passed. If chaining isn’t already illegal in your community, please write, call or meet with your elected representatives to encourage them to join the more than 280 communities across the U.S. that have banned or restricted dog chaining.

We can also make a difference for individual chained dogs right now, by working with their owners to improve their living conditions. Offer to take dogs for walks, ask if you can give them toys or treats, and politely share with the owners that you recently learned that dogs who live outdoors in the cold need extra food and a sturdy doghouse elevated off the ground, stuffed with straw and with a flap over the entrance. There are countless ways to help.

Many dogs’ lives have been improved or changed completely because someone cared enough to get involved. Miss Willie was one of them. PETA’s fieldworkers visited her for over a decade. That entire time, she was chained outdoors on a barren patch of dirt. They took her a sturdy doghouse and straw, food, clean water, toys and treats and gave her the love and attention she desperately craved, but her owner refused to give her a better life.

One day, they found Miss Willie coughing, wheezing and so weak that she could barely stand. Her owner finally surrendered her to PETA, but years of neglect had taken their toll. The little dog was suffering from end-stage heartworm disease, lung tumors, two tick-borne diseases and other ailments. A veterinarian gave her only weeks to live.

So the fieldworker who rescued her made Miss Willie’s final days the happiest of her life, with a dog-centric “bucket list” including a canoe ride, a beach day, “taco Tuesday,” a massage and a birthday bash, complete with dog-friendly vegan cake. Sixteen fun-filled days after her rescue, Miss Willie passed away peacefully, surrounded by people who loved her.

Every dog deserves to know that kind of love. By getting involved, we can make that possible for other dogs like Buster, Theodore and Miss Willie, right in our own communities.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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