Pet Safety this Winter in the D

By: Amber Ogden | January 21, 2015

There’s nothing that makes me happier than puppies, and there’s nothing that makes me sadder than puppies in danger. That’s why when winter rolls around, it’s so important for pet owners to take special care of their animals in freezing temperatures.

How many times have you driven down a street in the dead of winter and seen a dog sitting outside in the snow either chained up, or worse, just wandering about? Both are heartbreaking visuals, and if you’re a pet owner, you need to be smart about taking care of your best buddy in the coming months.

If you need a shocking statistic to wake yourself up, here’s one: the Michigan Humane Society Cruelty Investigation and Rescue Departments are inundated with calls during the winter months, and it is not uncommon for the teams to respond to over 40 calls in a single day.

Ryan McTigue, Public Relations Coordinator for the Michigan Humane Society, said that upon receiving a call, the investigators go and check on the animal to see if it is healthy or in immediate danger.

“They make a determination at that point if they need to remove the animal or educate the owner on how to be compliant with the law or how to work on behavior so that the dog can live indoors,” McTigue said. “They will always check back on animals that they have received complaints on to ensure that they are safe.”

If someone fails to provide proper shelter for their pet, the owner may face misdemeanor animal cruelty violations, which can result in up to 93 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, community service, and loss of pet ownership for a period of time.

McTigue urges owners to bring their pets inside, as it is the best and safest place for animals.

“If it’s too cold for you to be outside, it’s too cold for your pets. Limit your dog’s time outside and do not leave them unsupervised for long periods of time,” McTigue said.

The Michigan Humane Society offers free straw for pet owners at the Detroit Center for Animal Care, 7401 Chrysler Dr., Detroit, on Mondays through Saturdays and at the Rochester Hills Center for Animal Care, 3600 W. Auburn Rd., Rochester Hills, on the same days.

Daniel “Hush” Carlisle, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Detroit Dog Rescue, has seen firsthand the damage harsh weather can do to pets and homeless animals of the Detroit area.

While the organization does not advocate for keeping dogs outside during the winter, he noted that owners that choose to do so must take every necessary precaution to keep their pets safe, including proper shelter with insulation and enough room for the dog to move around. A consistently replenished supply of fresh water and food is also of utmost importance.

Throughout the winter months, the Detroit Dog Rescue receives a staggering number of calls asking for food. The organization can often be found on the streets passing out dog food, igloos and hay for insulation, thanks to donations through partnerships with Detroit Canine and Home Depot.

“During community outreach, we’re constantly advocating for responsible ownership,” Hush said.

Responsible pet ownership includes keeping your dog safe when going for a walk. Even indoor dogs need to get outside and release their energy during the winter months, and that’s what pet sweaters are for, said Hush.

“I would say just following that list (will ensure your pet’s safety during winter). An insulated dog house, hay, fresh food and fresh water,” Hush said. “Every day, you need to make sure you have that every day.”

When insulating your dog’s house or igloo, don’t forget to place the hay around the outside of it, too, not just the inside!

Stephanie Amado, Licensed Veterinary Technician at East Detroit Animal Hospital, pointed out that in below freezing temperatures, which are very common in Michigan winters, dogs are prone to frostbite.

“Keeping (your pets) warm and dry is the most important thing,” Amado said. “I have seen cases of frostbite before. With Michigan’s extreme weather, it can happen.”

It’s best to bring your dog inside to avoid this scenario entirely, but what about when you’re being a good pet owner and taking your pup for a walk? Amado suggests rubber boots that look like balloons to put over the paw pads.

“The paw pads, if they stay wet, could grow an infection between the toes of the paws. If the pet doesn’t allow you to dress them (in the boots), then after coming back inside from the snow, just be sure to dry their paws off,” she said.

Sometimes the hospital receives calls about dogs left out in the cold, and when that happens, microchipping can be a huge help in reuniting the animal with their owner.

Sandra Boulton, PR Director for Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter, said that keeping pets indoors comes first, but having your pet microchipped is the second best thing you can do for your furry friend during winter.

“This is the best opportunity for your pet family member to be returned if they get out and become lost. In the frigid temperatures of winter, dogs can (lose) their keen sense of scent and can readily lose their way home,” Boulton explained.

She also pointed out an incredibly toxic winter hazard: keep an eye out for antifreeze on the ground, as it is poisonous to animals and has a sweet taste, so they will find it attractive. For your own use, be sure to find a pet-friendly antifreeze option on the market.

When the shelter receives a call about a stray or abandoned animal, animal control is immediately dispatched to the location, which Boulton said is very responsive during the dangerous cold months. The pets are then brought to the shelter where they are cared for, assessed, and reunited with their families or adopted.

“Each of us pet owners can be ambassadors for companion animals with those around us, and a gentle reminder about pet safety in the winter could save a life,” Boulton said. “Second, always report a stray animal to your local police department or animal control, there is no way to know how long they have been outdoors and they could be at risk.”

As a pet owner, I personally know how much love and joy my pup brings into my life, and because of that, I will always do what is best for her. I think it’s safe to say that no matter what breed of dog or cat you own, all of us in the D can agree that owning a pet is a serious responsibility with a fantastic reward: unconditional love. For more information on how to care for your family pet during the winter months, read these tips, courtesy of ASPCA.