During dangerously cold weather, people must take a close look at how they care for their animals, who can suffer or be severely injured by exposure.
“Animals’ schedules become routine, and I think at a time like this, common sense must prevail over routine,” said Gina Browning, public relations director for the SPCA Serving Erie County. “I know people don’t do things intentionally to harm their pets, but they get on a schedule: ‘OK, this is the time the dog goes out for an hour,’ or ‘We give the dog a bath every Monday.’ It’s important, on the coldest days of winter just as it is on the hottest days of summer, to be in tune with your pet’s specific needs.”
State law requires that pet owners provide shelter for dogs who live outdoors or are outdoors for extended periods of time. The law says each dog must be given shelter “appropriate to its breed, size, physical condition and climate,” Browning said.
If the shelter provided is determined to be insufficient, this is one of the rare occasions when “an animal welfare officer has the ability to intervene and rescue the animal due to lack of adequate shelter alone,” she said. However, that officer needs adequate proof that the dog has been outside so long that it is a concern, Browning said. “We have to have witnesses who know the dog has been outside that amount of time, and wasn’t just let out 10 minutes ago. Like the rest of our cruelty investigations, we rely on community members being our eyes.”
To report dogs left out without sufficient shelter in Erie County, people should call their local police department or the SPCA Serving Erie County at 875-7360. After hours, the SPCA number is 712-0251. Outside Erie County, people should call their local law enforcement agency.
No law requires people to provide care and shelter for cats, “and that’s so sad,” said Browning. “I don’t know why people think cats should be self-sufficient.”
• Cats seeking warmth can climb up into the engine compartments of recently parked cars and be badly injured when the car is started. “Even if your car is parked in a garage, a cat might still be able to get in, so drivers should tap the hood of the car before getting in and starting it,” Browning said.
• Owners of older, smaller or short-haired dogs should limit the animal’s time outside. “We say to only leave the animal outside for as long as is necessary for the animal to eliminate,” she said. “Like heatstroke, hypothermia problems can start developing before you are really aware of it, so cut down the outside exercise. Play in the house instead.”
• Anyone who walks a dog in ice and salt should wipe off the dogs’ paws with a warm, moist cloth after returning home. “The ice and salt can become encrusted in the pet’s paws and could lead to infection,” Browning said. Usually people are wiping off paws to keep their floors clean, but there’s a medical reason for it too.” A dog that licks its feet can ingest salt and other chemicals. “Antifreeze is toxic,” Browning said, “and because it tends to taste sweet to an animal, they are attracted to it, so people who leave an animal in the garage have to make sure the antifreeze, even bottled, is put away, and that spills are cleaned up.”
• A dog that is normally allowed to run off its leash can become disoriented and lost because its senses of sight and scent are impaired when it’s cold and snowy, Browning said. “This happens when people just open the door and expect the animal to stay in the yard or not to go far. Especially if the snow is falling at a faster rate, the animal can become disoriented and not be able to find its way home.”
• Dogs should not be left alone in a car for any length of time in either cold or hot weather. “The way that a car acts like an oven in the summer, it can act like a refrigerator in the winter,” Browning said. “It’s important that people not leave an animal in the car in freezing temperatures.”
Small, short-haired and older dogs “are best left at home,” she added.