In spite of a few really cold nights scattered here and there, it’s been fairly mild so far, but it looks like we go from daily highs in the 50s to days in the mid 30s. Along with that of course, come some frigid nights and our concern for outdoor animals is heightened by the dangers that those temperatures will bring.
By this time, those folks who have outdoor cats and dogs should have everything in place to provide them with proper protections from the weather, but given that the new laws dictating such protections were implemented just a year ago, there seems to be some confusion about what those laws mean. I had put the guidelines in a previous column but it doesn’t always sink in until the weather actually tanks on us and it becomes a real issue.
First and foremost, it dictates what constitutes proper shelter and that outside pets must have continuous access to it.
Shelters must be sound and in an upright position so that the animal can remain dry and maintain its body temperature. It must have a floor. Maintaining body heat requires that the shelter be just big enough for the animal to stand up, turn around and lay down comfortably with its legs outstretched; anything larger will reduce their ability to stay warm. The structure must be away from flooded areas, cleared of snow, protected from precipitation and clear of debris. If the temperature is below 32 degrees, it also needs to have a windbreak. Keep in mind though, unless the house is actually heated, frigid temps may compromise pets if they suffer any physical challenges such as age, or are of a breed not meant to tolerate the elements.
The other focus of the new law was to dictate how and when a dog can be tethered. It’s important to understand that the motivation behind the tethering law is to get dogs off chains. It doesn’t say that they can’t be tethered at all, but it does try to lay down rules to make it a little less inhumane. Obviously, in a perfect world, no dog would spend its life at the end of a chain, rope or cable.
The tethering restrictions are as follows: The tether must be at least 15 feet in length without posing a risk of entanglement with anything. A dog cannot be on a tether for more than 30 minutes without proper shelter as defined above. A dog cannot be tethered with a choker or prong collar, head harness. The tether cannot be of chain with links more than a quarter of an inch thick, nor can it have a weight attached to it. The tether must allow them continuous access to clean, liquid water (use a heated water bowl in freezing temps).
And finally, and this is BIG one that has caused the most confusion; dogs CANNOT BE TETHERED BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 11 P.M. AND 5 A.M. regardless of weather conditions.
This obviously effects a lot of dogs in our area and it will take some time for this to be broadly enforced. Our municipal and state police departments are inundated with calls reporting violations and they may lack the manpower to address all of the complaints when hit with them all at once.
The bottom line is, if you see or are aware of violations of the shelter and tethering laws, please DON’T WAIT until the weather becomes dangerous. Having run the former humane law enforcement entity, I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to handle the influx of calls that come with any severe weather event. I cannot imagine having to respond to them when you are also dealing with car accidents, domestic disputes, robberies and everything else that police officers must respond to. In order to prevent suffering on the part of the animals, call your local police department as soon as you see or suspect a problem.