Saturday, January 4, 2014

How to keep pets safe in extreme cold: Shelter is paramount

It can be easy to misjudge the effects of the elements on our companion animals when the mercury drops.

Outdoor adventures can be fun and safe in the cold weather, but still, the details are up for discussion, such as how age affects cold tolerance, what is acceptable when it comes to a canine living outdoors — or what to do if you see a pet not cared for properly as the temperatures plunge.

It's good to remember that certain age groups — puppies and senior dogs — do not tolerate the cold as well as healthy adult dogs. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age or even illness or breed type, take the dog outdoors only to do his or her business.

Though it can be difficult to understand because we don't recognize non-verbal cues that pets exhibit when they are uncomfortable, be assured that they do suffer as much as we do in the outdoors in the winter if not protected.

The plight of outdoor dogs is something that needs to be taken seriously. Some folks see pets as being outdoor-only, but there are other reasons why dogs end up living out in the elements.

In some cases, this kind of arrangement happens because of behavior problems.

Let's face it: canines don't come with an instruction book. Quite honestly, a lot of people who get a dog can feel as though that finding resources for good information and support beyond where to get a dog license can be lacking.

So, it's not surprising that naughty behavior and inappropriate elimination problems rank at the top of the list of reasons that dogs unfairly get the boot outdoors; I and other pet professionals encourage those who have felt it necessary to consider another option.

I recommend finding a qualified behaviorist or trainer who can show you how to overcome the things that are driving you crazy, whether it's house-soiling, uncontrolled chewing or just the ill-mannered exuberance of a dog who doesn't know any better.

For whatever reason that a pooch ends up outdoors permanently, I get emails, tweets and calls regularly from concerned citizens in the winter about dogs that may not be getting adequate care — and what should they do?

Every time someone asks, my heart sinks, because I know that there are many other pets who are in a similar situation.

My advice is always the same: "Call the Humane Society of Huron Valley immediately."

Each year, the organization's Cruelty and Rescue Department handles countless calls of animals left out on the elements without proper housing, nourishment or water.

HSHV Cruelty Investigator Matt Schaecher offers some guidelines for what the law allows, and important guidelines to keep pets safe.

"Even though Michigan state law doesn't prevent dogs from living outside, we remind people that the law does require proper shelter and bedding," says Schaecher.

"During the freezing winter months, we have zero tolerance for dogs found living outside without appropriate protection, and if found to be in danger, those animals will be removed for their own safety."

The law requires adequate bedding be placed inside a weather-proof doghouse (ideally elevated and positioned so that it faces south or east prevent the opening from facing prevailing winds) when temperatures drop below freezing. HSHV Animal Cruelty Investigators suggest using straw instead of wood shavings, towels or blankets because straw holds a dog's body heat longer and doesn't collect moisture and freeze.

Animals that are outside during freezing weather need a constant source of fresh water, so checking the bowl often to ensure it hasn't frozen is important.

Feeding outdoor dogs well is crucial. Even if your dog simply spends a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities, increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him and his fur healthy.

And there's help for pet owners that need it.

"If people need dog houses, they can be obtained here at the shelter," notes Deb Kern, marketing director for HSHV.

"To inquire about a dog house," implores Kern, "call 734-661-3512. Leave a message including your contact information and someone will get back to you."

Kern brought up another program that is helping pet owners: the Bountiful Bowls pet food assistance program. Washtenaw County, Canton and Plymouth residents who are having difficulty meeting the nutritional needs of their pet due to a challenging financial situation have been able to bridge the gap with Bountiful Bowls so that their pets have enough to eat.

Despite all of the added assistance, HSHV strongly recommends keeping pets inside in extreme temperatures.

"Educating the public on proper animal care is our main goal, but we take all complaints of animals subjected to unsafe conditions seriously," adds Schaecher.

"Cases found to be valid will be submitted to the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office on charges of animal cruelty. If you see an animal in danger and you live in Washtenaw County, call 734-661-3512."

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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