How to keep pets safe during winter months

Logan Raschke, News Editor

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Neglecting to provide decent shelter for a pet from the below freezing weather can kill it, and it can also result in a misdemeanor charge for its owner.

Sierrah McLaughlin, a veterinarian assistant at Clyde’s Animal Clinic, said she would recommend keeping dogs outside little while conditions are below freezing.

She said a safe amount of time for a dog to be outside varies depending on breed and fur coat.

Larger dogs with thick, long fur can stay outside in below freezing temperatures for an hour maximum, McLaughlin said.

Small dogs with short, thin fur can spend 15-20 minutes at most outside, she said.

McLaughlin said if dogs are kept outside in freezing weather longer than these maximum time caps, they have a high risk of getting bodily injuries or freezing to death.

“(Pets) can easily get frostbitten, their paws can get cracked,” she said, “their body temperature drops way low way fast.”

In any case, if an owner needs to let their dog outside, they need to stay with the dog in order to monitor its health, regardless of breed or fur coat, McLaughlin said.

There are also legal consequences if an owner is neglectfully leaving their pets outside in freezing temperatures, she said.

Kent Martin, chief of police at the University Police Department, said owners may be criminally charged if they are not keeping their outside pets safe.

According to the Humane Care for Animals Act, Martin said, owners must provide good shelter, food, water and veterinary care for their pets during freezing or below freezing weather conditions.

If owners fail to abide by the Act, they can get hit with a class B misdemeanor, he said.

“I believe (the charge) is a class B misdemeanor, and if you have a second or subsequent violation, it’s a class 4 felony, so it’s pretty serious,” Martin said.

Chaining a pet outside, keeping it in a poorly insulated enclosure and leaving it without any food or liquid water during winter conditions are all signs of neglect on the owner’s part, McLaughlin said.

In case someone sees a pet walking outside without any clear owner, McLaughlin said the person has several options to help get the animal to safety.

First, if the animal is friendly, McLaughlin said she recommends people to pick it up and call animal control.

People can also take the pet straight to a veterinary clinic to see if it has a microchip, and from there the process of finding its owner can commence, she said.

If the pet is not microchipped, the veterinarian clinic can temporarily keep it as clinics have kennels for animals to stay in, she said.

It is important for the person to begin the process of locating the pet’s owner immediately, McLaughlin said, because it is illegal to keep someone else’s pet without looking for its owner in Illinois.

For all pet owners, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has more tips and advice for ensuring pets are happy and healthy during cold weather.

Owners should keep homes humidified and dry their pets off with a towel as soon as they come inside, according to the ASPCA.

After every walk, owners should “wash and dry (their) pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals, and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes,” according to the ASPCA.

For dogs with short, thin fur, McLaughlin said she would recommend dressing them in special coats and booties before every walk.

Lastly, the ASPCA said, “Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside.”

Logan Raschke can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].