Maple in a Chokehold

The hook was embedded in the bark. Please don't let this happen to your trees.

Confession is good for the soul, and while I am really embarrassed about this incident, others may benefit from my mistake. Bottom line: I almost strangled my favorite front yard tree with a dog chain.

Here’s how it happened: We had an old dog, who enjoyed sitting out in the yard, especially if I was out there working. She also had an unfortunate tendency to wander over to other people’s yards to do her business, so we put a longish dog chain (covered in plastic) around the tree so she would stay in our yard. We usually took this chain off in the winter, but we didn’t do it every year, and it soon just became part of the scenery.

Last winter, after a long, good life, the dog died. We had not taken the chain off last fall. In April, we got a younger dog, who had been bounced around quite a bit in her first year and a half of life, and as a result was (and is) skittish about many things — including dog chains.  So, we had not used the chain this year at all, but left it on the tree, hanging on like Christmas lights in July. While mowing the yard recently, I noticed that the shape of the tree looked a little weird at the bottom. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the tree’s diameter had grown a lot this year, what with all the good rain we’ve had, and was larger than the chain loop, which was now cutting into the bark.

I tried to remove the chain, but the hook itself was stuck in the bark, and no amount of pulling seemed to release it. Not wanting to damage the tree taking the chain out, I went inside to do some research. I was horrified to discover that strangulation by dog chain was a common (and particularly idiotic) cause of tree death, according to many sources. Most of the sources basically said, if you let this happen, the tree is a goner, because the chain will cut through the phloem, the tissue which transports nutrients between the crown and roots, essentially choking the tree’s vascular system. My heart sank.

I decided to get an expert opinion on this situation, though, and stopped at Knecht’s Nurseries and Landscaping, the landscapers who have helped me with several projects, including selecting and planting this tree.  After describing the situation as likely dismal, Deb Knecht told me that she and Leif would stop by during their lunch break, so Leif could inspect. When their truck pulled up, I mentally prepared myself for the worst, and some much-deserved ribbing from Leif.

But instead he gave me hope.

“It’s close, but I don’t think you’ve killed it,” he said. “Just get the chain off as soon as you can.”  He suggested I use a bolt cutter to make a couple of snips, and then the rest of the chain would roll right off. As he left, he smiled and said, “You probably should take a picture of it, though.” (See above.)

Right after they left, I shot down to the hardware store and bought a small bolt cutter. It took two cuts, but once those were accomplished, the rest of the chain came off  easily, except for the hook, which I had to tug at a bit. Because the tree has had adequate moisture and fertilizer, there isn’t anything else I can do for it now. Time and nature will — we hope — allow the tree to heal.

I’ve learned my lesson, though, and I hope those of you with dogs will add one more chore to your fall garden chore list: Take chain off tree.