The recent case of a town of Root breeding kennel accused of leaving dogs outside without adequate shelter in the bitter cold may serve as a reminder for pet owners: Pets require special care in the cold.
"It's pretty much common sense; if it's too cold for you to be outside, then it's too cold for a pet to be outside," said Renee Earl, Gloversville Regional Animal Shelter board member.
Last week, state police charged Herbert Weich, owner of the Flat Creek Border Collie breeding kennel, with violating the state Agriculture & Markets Law. Police said Weich was keeping his dogs outside without adequate food, water or shelter. Weich agreed to surrender 41 of his 66 dogs to the Montgomery County SPCA while he builds doghouses for the animals.
Gabrielle Rulison pets Wishbone, a pit bull mixed breed, in his kennel at the Gloversville Regional Animal Shelter last week.
The Leader-Herald/Casey Croucher
Earl said the Gloversville shelter, which currently houses six dogs, takes steps to ensure their safety and comfort in the winter.
"We make sure that the temperature inside of the building is warm enough," Earl said. "We provide the dogs with plenty of warm blankets and we have thick, heavy mats that are on the concrete so that the dogs aren't lying directly on the cold, hard ground."
The shelter also provides the dogs with plenty of fresh water, feeds them routinely and gives them each a muti-vitamin every day, Earl said.
She said that when the temperature drops below zero, the shelter lets the dogs out only for a short time and then brings them back inside.
"Depending on the breed of the dog, we'll take preventative measures when letting them outside," she said. "If it's a small breed with little fur, we'll put a coat on it to try to help it deal with the elements. Unfortunately, our shelter does not have the funds to buy booties for all of the dogs, but for the general public, there are boots that you can buy for dogs, and even socks can help them from stepping on the ice and the cold snow."
Shelter board member Gabrielle Rulison said she thinks people need to be more sensible when it comes to a dog's health in the winter.
"I don't judge anyone," Rulison said, "but some people get in over their heads when it comes to pet ownership. In the winter, it's especially a problem because you've got cats and dogs in the elements. That's a big issue with pet dealers and puppy mills; the pets are usually never taken care of properly in the winter. The laws need to be changed."
On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law proposed by Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, authorizing municipal governments to enact more stringent laws for regulating and licensing pet dealers.
Any new local law must be at least as stringent as the state law and must not result in the banning of the sale of dogs and cats raised in a safe and healthy manner. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets will continue to enforce existing state laws pertaining to animal care by pet dealers.
Lisa Marie, an assistant at the Amsterdam Animal Hospital, said she doesn't think dogs should be outside at all when the weather is below freezing.
"In freezing temperatures, dogs should not be outside," Marie said. "You can still take them for walks, but when it's anything below 32 degrees, they shouldn't be outside unless they have adequate shelter that they can go into that will keep them warm, but even then, they shouldn't be out too long."
Marie said adequate shelter consists of insulated housing that contains enough water and food if the dog will be there for a long period.
"There are certain dogs that are meant to be outside in the winter like huskies, malamutes and Bernese mountain dogs because they're outdoor dogs, but they shouldn't be left outside in the elements in below zero temperatures for extended periods," Marie said. "Even though they're made for the weather, it doesn't mean they should be left out in it."
Marie said frostbite is an issue dogs in the winter.
"First-degree frostbites can be easy to miss," she said. "Any extremity can become frost bitten: an ear, a paw, a nose, the tail, the belly. When the dog is first affected, the area will be hard and warm to the touch when it comes in from being outside. Then the skin will change to a gray color and become scaly."
She said third-degree frostbite, which is the most serious form, will turn a dog's skin dark, even black, after several days.
To ward off frostbite, Marie said booties can be worn.
She also offered some other advice to dog and cat owners in the winter.
"Make sure you dry your pet off when they come in from outside so they don't stay chilled," she said. "Clean the pads of their paws out after you take them for a walk so that they don't have salt in their pads because that erodes and burns their paws. Make walks short. Don't leave dogs or cats in a cold car. Cats are just as susceptible to the cold as dogs, and they are not meant to be outside in the winter at all. And just be aware of the weather so that your pet doesn't suffer."
Earl said animal pet care in the winter all comes down to common sense and decision making.
"If you don't want to be outside in the freezing temperatures, neither does your animal," Earl said. "So, don't leave your pet outside any longer than you would want to be out there."
Veterinarians say the smaller the animal, the higher risk of freezing to death. In dogs and cats, shivering and lethargy are the first two signs of trouble.
"The smaller you are, the more body surface you have, and the quicker you will lose body heat," said Dr. Douglas G. Aspros, immediate past president of the Illinois-based American Veterinary Medical Association.
Many animals will become comfortable if they're moving but get cold when they slow down, said Dr. Brian Collins of the animal clinic at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca. "They may refuse to walk because their feet are so cold," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.