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January 24, 2012 > Ohlone Humane Society: A cry for help in the night

Ohlone Humane Society: A cry for help in the night

By Nancy Lyon

Warnings were broadcast far and wide during the cold snap of the past weeks and they had us hauling potted plants inside to prevent them from freezing during the unusually cold nights as temperatures fell into the low 30s. Yet during the icy nights I could hear the persistent and desperate barking of a small dog left outside some blocks away. It was so sad and angering... why had her family left her out in the life threatening cold while they were in their warm beds? What were they thinking, if at all? And how often are family animals left to fend for themselves during miserable and potentially deadly weather?

Probably more than those of us, that have compassion for animals, would like to hear about.

There are many unfortunates who are homeless and face hardships that those of us who are lucky enough to have roof over our heads find difficult to imagine. It may not cross our minds that one of those unfortunates isn't human and may be a member of our own family. It may be your companion animal who can only bark or scratch at the door trying to draw attention to their plight if left in the yard or unheated garage during freezing or rainy weather.

You don't have to be all that sharp to notice how unpredictable the weather has become and that in a very short span of time temperatures can drop to a life threatening degree or that rains can chillingly soak the unprotected dog, cat or other animal denied the protection of being included inside of the house with the rest of the family.

Through their long association with humans, "pets" no longer have any or little of the natural protection provided by evolution that may have helped them endure and survive extreme weather. They suffer from the elements just as you or I. Even if they do have furry coats or feathers, the damp and cold can and does overcome their ability to tolerate soaking and chilling temperatures that result not only in misery but health problems and even death.

Young or senior animals and those with short coats are especially at risk in harsh weather and it's your responsibility as family and caregiver to insure their comfort and well-being in chilly times just as you would any member of your family. They may even need the extra protection of a warm doggy sweater or jacket on wintry outdoor excursions.

When the temperature drops dramatically or the wind drives rain into even what may seem a comfy dog house to you, if given the choice, your dog or other animal would much prefer to be inside and warm with his family - his pack. If he's a senior fellow you can believe that the bad weather is tough on old joints that don't take kindly to the cold and damp.

Special provisions should be made for small animals such as rabbits in hutches, chickens and others who will also need extra warm bedding to snuggle in when it grows cold; warm set-ups for the night in the garage beat being outside.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has offered a few extra tips to help animals in severe weather:
Be careful with cars
Dogs aren't the only critters impacted by tough weather. Free-roaming cats and other heat-seeking animals such as wildlife will be looking to find sanctuary from the rain and cold. Unfortunately, that may mean on the still warm engine of your car where they can crawl up and try to survive...but it doesn't always work out in their favour. A way to avoiding terrible injury to any hidden animals and the damaging results to your car is to thump on your car's hood and give them a chance to vacate before starting the engine. Trust me, you both will benefit from it.

Keep feral and stray cats warm
If there are ferals or strays in your neighborhood, remember that they need protection from the elements. It's easy to give them shelter. Check the HSUS website listed below for suggestions.

Avoid antifreeze
Something we normally don't consider in the Bay Area but current weather patterns may prove this necessary in the future. Remember, antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family.

If your dog spends a lot of time outside.
A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, he or she must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

The best tip of all: keep your four-footed companions with you
Much of the winter impact on family companion animals can be overcome by keeping your dog or cat 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. They are social animals who crave being with their family no matter the weather and they deserve to live inside with you. If you can't offer them that basic need, then don't get an animal - ever.

These are difficult times for human and non-human animals alike. If you have the opportunity, offer your time or resources to help the less fortunate in our community. Remember - we are a village and each of us has some ability or talent that can help another in hard times be they two, four-legged or with wings.

For further cold weather tips check out:
http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/protect_your_pet_from_winters_woes.html

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