According to experts, the furry creatures that many people consider family members need some extra care to keep them safe in freezing temperatures this time of year.
Christiansburg resident Dennis Davis said that he has seen animals tied up outside with little or no shelter over the last few weeks.
“It’s got to be a total lack of compassion for another living creature,” he said. “That is lost on people for some reason.”
Local experts said that each animal’s needs differ, but dogs that are tethered and unable to roam freely to find protection from the elements can be especially vulnerable.
Virginia’s tethering ordinance states that the rope or chain tied to the dog must be at least three times the animal’s size and must allow it to be able to move freely without getting tangled or strangled.
That ordinance leaves a lot of room for interpretation, often allowing officers to do little more than request that owners bring their animals inside during the extreme cold weather.
According to state code, adequate shelter means providing access to shelter that is: suitable for the species, age, condition, size, and type of each animal; adequate space for each animal; is safe and protects each animal from injury, rain, sleet, snow, hail, direct sunlight, the adverse effects of heat or cold, physical suffering, and impairment of health; is properly lighted; is properly cleaned; enables each animal to be clean and dry, except when detrimental to the species; and, for dogs and cats, provides a solid surface, resting platform, pad, floor mat, or similar device that is large enough for the animal to lie on in a normal manner and can be maintained in a sanitary manner.
Adele Katrovitz of the Radford Animal Shelter said that even if owners are following the law, it still may not be enough to keep animals as safe as they could be.
“A board doghouse is not going with an open front is not going to provide respite from these conditions. These are the situations that cause issues,” she said.
Katrovitz said that insulating structures with straw can be helpful, but bringing the animals indoors is always the ideal option. She also noted that using nothing is better than using towels or quilts for insulation. They can get wet and they do not provide any additional warmth.
“It is important to remember that local and state ordinances are written to make sure that adequate shelter is provided for each animal’s specific situation. The needs of a husky or a German Shepherd will be very different than the needs of a poodle or a boxer, and animal control looks at each situation with that in mind,” Eileen Mahan, director of the Montgomery County Animal Care and Adoption Center, said.
She also noted that it is important to make sure animals have a good water supply that isn’t frozen, something that is often overlooked.
Mahan said that feral cats are usually able to take care of themselves, having already found warm places to sleep; however, she said it never hurts to try and provide extra outdoor shelter lined with straw for those who feel inclined.
Both Radford and Montgomery County officials said they have received calls in the last few weeks by those concerned for dogs that were being left out in the cold. Most cases are resolved with the pet going inside.
County residents who think that an animal is in danger or is possibly being mistreated are encouraged to call 382-5795, ext. 2. Radford residents can call 731-3688.
For more information on how to care for pets in the winter, visit www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Cold-weather-pet-safety.aspx.