The winter of our discontent is definitely upon us. This year’s uninterrupted successive number of snowstorms and freezing temps have made bearing the elements a challenge for man and beast. While wildlife might have it in their DNA to instinctively know how to brave a blustery harsh winter, our pets, without our intervention are another story entirely!

Fur Coats, not enough. . .

"Just because they have a fur coat doesn't mean they can be left out in the cold," noted Suffolk Humane Society’s outreach coordinator Kay Hurley, citing the case of Jada, a severely neglected pit bull mix found found freezing at the end of a short tether in Suffolk about four years ago.

Fortunately the pooch was rescued, but Chief Animal Control Officer Meghann Lanier indicated that emergency calls that led to Jada’s rescue are rare. These cases require our immediate attention in the case of rescue, as well as being preemptive in our care-giving.

What should Pet Owners do. . .

According to most state codes, pets are required to be provided with adequate shelter, food and water during inclement weather, especially when temps drop to freezing or below.

Most pet owners know to bring their dogs and cats inside during frigid weather, but when they need to be outside to take care of their daily duty, there are precautions that should be taken when you walk your pets during the winter months.

Here are some tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association about how to keep your pets warm when temperatures are anything but:

  •     Get a wellness exam. Dogs with pre-existing conditions could be more vulnerable in the cold temperatures.
  •     Know your limits. Shorten your walks and beware of your pet's tolerance for cold weather.
  •     Make sure your dog has a warm place to sleep, even if it's a change from their normal routine.
  •     Don't leave pets outside for long periods of time.
  •     Check your dog's paws frequently for cracks and bleeding.
  •     Consider a sweater if your dog has a short coat.
  •     Wipe your dog down. After a walk, check your dog's feet for toxins such as anti-freeze and salt.
  •     Always keep on a leash, since snow and ice can cover up recognizable scents, making it easier for your dog to get lost.
  •     Don't leave your pets in the car when you go into a store or office, no matter how long you are away. Freezing temperatures mean the heat in your car won't last long after you turn it off.
  •     Avoid ice. Even if you think a lake or pond is frozen over, don't walk on it. You never know if a break in the ice could cause you and your pets to fall through.
  •     Recognize problems. If your pet is exhibiting unusual behavior like shivering, take him/her to the vet to get checked out.
  •     As always, be prepared for emergencies by keeping a disaster kit at the ready, at all times.

Feral Cats

Feral cat caretakers also need to keep the free-roaming felines they feed in mind,” said Lacy Kuller, Chesapeake Humane Society's executive director. Plastic storage bins can be converted into shelters, and you can protect them from antifreeze poisoning by clearing alternate pathways from your salted sidewalks.

Joe Public

And even if you don’t own a pet yourself, be a good Samaritan when you see pets shivering out in the cold.

If you suspect an animal is not getting appropriate care - in cold weather or otherwise - it's important to "step up and speak up," Kuller said. Welfare concerns should be reported to a city's enforcement agency - and, in most cases that means Animal Control or your local Animal Shelter.