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December 3, 2008 > Ohlone Humane Society: Best prescription for winter's woes

Ohlone Humane Society: Best prescription for winter's woes

By Nancy Lyon

It looks like winter is upon us; if not officially than you'd better take a look out the window. Personally, I feel it in these old bones. Mother Nature is making herself heard and felt and it looks like it's once again time to hunker down and find ways to keep warm.

When the season turns cold and wet, it always sets my teeth on edge in the night when I lie warm and toasty in my bed and hear a neighbor's dogs barking their hearts out in the cold. They are supposedly "family members" yet they are consigned to a cold garage and the backyard while the rest of the family is inside and warm. You have to ask where their guardian's compassion and brains are spending the winter.

There's a school of thought that says Mother Nature has designed them to withstand all kinds of weather - well think again, this just isn't true. Despite their "fur" coats, domesticated animals like cats, dogs and other animals depend on their human protectors to consider their welfare in times when the weather turns cold, temperatures drop and the rain and wind make them equally uncomfortable as the rest of us.

While California law mandates shelter from the elements for companion animals, it doesn't expand on the definition; a roof overhang can be interpreted as "shelter." Our fur family can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite and the wind-chill factor and can especially threaten the well-being of young and senior animals.

It's not just the lonely and cold outdoor dogs and cats that suffer. Rabbits and other small animals are subject to the same dangers and should be protected in warm and dry indoor areas. Short-haired critters and those with health or age related problems need extra protective warmth and If they are spending a lot of time outdoors, they need more food in the winter; just trying to keep warm depletes energy. Just like you and I, arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather so take special care to handle your critter gently, watch out on wet walks where slipping may cause injuries or chilling; provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding.

If you absolutely must leave your dog outside while you are away during the day and a doggy door isn't an option, set up a suitable dog house in an area protected from wind, rain and cold. It should be dry and draft-free and large enough to allow a dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his or her body heat. Have it raised a few inches off the ground and covered with insulating material and the entrance turned away from prevailing winds. And, when you come home - bring him inside with you.

Poor outside or feral cats have to find sanctuary from the cold and wet where they can. The still warm engine of your parked car may look to them (and small wild critters) to be just that sanctuary...and they may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals and the awful results, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine...it only takes a minute to avoid tragedy.

Don't wait until it's a convenient time to make winter provisions because now is the time to start making cold weather arrangements to protect your animal family. This will help to insure that they will remain healthy and comfortable. If you have any concerns about your animal companion's well-being and health during the cold months ahead, consult your veterinarian.

Probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your animal friend inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for walks and exercise but kept inside the rest of the time. Our companion animals are social creatures that need and crave human companionship. They deserve to live indoors with you and the rest of your family.

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. [George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950]

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