Cold brings risks for animals
Extremely cold weather has increased the workload of Armstrong County agencies that help neglected animals or work to educate owners about their responsibilities when temperatures drop to single digits or below.
“Every day, we get calls about animals possibly being neglected, but our call volume always increases when the weather gets cold,” said Bethann Galbraith, manager of Orphans of the Storm, an animal shelter in Rayburn. “This year, we're especially busy because of the cold.”
Brian Bucek, an officer with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society in Pittsburgh, said the agency received an influx of calls during the polar vortex's first blasts of cold this month. Officers spent more time educating the public on the state's animal care laws than confiscating animals left outdoors, he said.
“It's not illegal to have a dog outside in these temperatures, as long as it has a dog house, bedding to keep warm and it is generally healthy,” Bucek said. “I wouldn't leave my dog outside in these cold temperatures, but it's not illegal if they meet the minimum requirements.”
Bucek said state law requires animals to have access to a clean and sanitary shelter with bedding, no matter the temperature. When going out to investigate a claim of neglect during harshly cold weather, Bucek said there is nothing he can do if a pet owner meets the minimum requirements.
“We tell people to make sure they're meeting the requirements when we investigate, and caution them if anything happens to that animal, it's on them,” Bucek said. “Usually, when we check a second time, their animals aren't being left outside any more.”
Despite being legal to leave animals outside in cold weather, Galbraith said she encourages people to call Orphans of the Storm if they suspect a case of neglect.
“We do offer advice to let people know if they need to go further with their concerns,” Galbraith said.
Although she discourages people from leaving pets outside in arctic weather, Tracy Rembier, who owns a farm where she houses rescued animals in Kittanning Township, said there are several steps owners should take to help animals stay warm in the winter.
Rembier recommends giving animals extra food, enriched with protein, and warm water, to prevent freezing. In some animals, especially cows and horses, the digestive process warms the animal's innards, she said.
Along with an insulated dog house or shelter, Rembier recommended using straw for bedding, instead of blankets or cloth, which tend to trap moisture and freeze. Also, any restrained animals must be given adequate amounts of room to run, which helps them remain warm, Rembier said.
“If they can't keep moving and don't have adequate shelter or bedding, their body temperatures will keep dropping,” Rembier said. “But the best thing that can be done is to bring them inside, especially when the wind chill dips into the negative temperatures.”
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or firstname.lastname@example.org.