DETROIT — The cold weather is here and while that may be an inconvenience for us, it can be life-threatening for outdoor pets. Every year, dogs and cats in the Metro Detroit area will be left outside, forced to face the frigid winds and extreme temperatures without adequate shelter, food and water. With its Cruelty Investigation Department already responding to high numbers of weather-related calls, the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) is urging pet owners to ensure their pets are protected now, before it's too late.
"If we had our way, no pets would be kept outside in this weather," said Debby MacDonald, MHS Chief Cruelty Investigator. "But because the law allows them to be kept outside as long as they have adequate food, water and shelter, we're going to be out there making sure they have the proper provisions."
If pet owners leave their animals outdoors for any length of time, they are required by Michigan state law to provide enough food and water, as well as adequate shelter. MHS recommends that dogs be provided a well-built, insulated, slant-roofed dog house. The interior should be just large enough for the dog to stand and to lie down comfortably and slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation. The door should face away from prevailing winds and have a protective flap to eliminate drafts. Clean, dry straw should be provided for bedding, rather than towels, rugs or blankets, which quickly absorb moisture and freeze in frigid temperatures.
MHS offers free straw for pets at its Detroit Center for Animal Care, 7401 Chrysler Drive, between 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Straw is also available at the MHS Rochester Hills Center for Animal Care, 3600 W. Auburn Road, between 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Examples of inadequate shelter frequently encountered by MHS Cruelty Investigators include an unheated garage or shed, a dog house that is too large or lacks straw, or dogs simply tied out on a porch, fence or deck with no shelter at all.
Additionally, MHS recommends the following pet safety tips:
– When temperatures plummet, pets should not be left outside for any length of time. Be sure to bring small or short-haired pets in when temperatures reach 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to take into account precipitation and wind chill.
– Cats should be kept indoors or at least brought into a warm, animal proofed garage during severe weather.
– Roaming cats often seek the warmth of car engines, so be sure to knock on the car hood or honk the horn before starting your car to startle them and give them a chance to escape.
– Increase the amount of food you provide for dogs left outside by 10-20 percent during the winter months. The extra calories are needed to help an animal to stay warm.
– Regular access to clean, unfrozen water is also critical. Check drinking water frequently — every few hours — to ensure that it is unfrozen.
– If an animal is cold to the touch, or his paws and ears are pale, he may be suffering from frostbite. Move the animal to a warmer area and contact your veterinarian immediately.
To report pets left outside without proper shelter in Detroit, Hamtramck or Highland Park, call the MHS Cruelty Hotline at 313-872-3401. A confidential message can be left 24 hours a day. In other cities, animal cruelty should be reported to the local animal control or police.
Failing to provide proper provisions for pets can result in misdemeanor animal cruelty violations carrying a sentence of up to 93 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, community service and loss of pet ownership for a specified amount of time. More serious violations could warrant felony charges.