Winter Time Blues

We are still experiencing very cold winter weather in this area, and driving around town on errands last week, I was saddened by the number of shivering dogs left outside. Responsible pet owners do NOT leave their dogs outside in the cold. Windchill factors make days even colder than actual temperature readings. If you absolutely refuse to let your dog into the house, at least fix up a warm corner in the basement or garage. Fix a bed to provide a barrier from cold floors, and place it away from drafts. Especially useful for older pets and pets with thin coats are the specially made-for-dogs heating pads (with chew resistant cords).

Frozen water is another common problem in this area. It is absolutely essential that pets have fresh water available at all times. Heated waterers are available at reasonable cost and should be provided if there is a danger of freezing. I often hear pet owners say that their dogs eat snow. Responsible pet owners realize that water is necessary for all body functions from walking to sleeping and that snow does not provide adequate water. As a general rule, a normal, healthy pet’s daily water needs are about 2 ½ times the amount of dry food he is given. For example, if your dog eats 2 lbs. of dry food, he should drink 5 pints—almost two-thirds of a gallon – of water. There should always be clean, fresh water available for your pet.

Dogs need regular exercise, but excursions outside in freezing weather need to be brief. Pets are sensitive to the cold—you can’t take your pet’s temperature by touching her nose, but you can see if she is shivering. If she is shivering, she is cold. There are a number of good dog coats and sweaters available. Choose a coat for warmth, not for style—and make sure it is an easy on-easy off garment.

Never let your dog off the leash in snowy, icy weather. Dogs can lose their scent in snow and ice, and can become lost. They may panic in a blizzard and run away. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season.

Tying them outside in any weather for extended periods of time is cruel and inhumane, but in this cold weather, it can be fatal. If you see animal neglect, it is your responsibility to take action. Report an animal in trouble immediately. In this weather, a puppy will die if left out in the elements. We have already received several reports of dogs tied outside shivering. We cannot save all of them, but we can take actions to prevent neglect in our own neighborhoods. I repeat a quote by Rabbi Kenneth Segel: “We must not become so hardened to the plight of animals that we begin to accept it. If we are insensitive to the suffering of animals, we are on the road to becoming cruel and inhumane with people.”

Winter: Keep Your Dogs Cozy and Safe as the Temps Drop!

Winter has definitely arrived, and it is EXTREMELY cold this year in Iowa, with snow already piled high in many places. Even though we enjoy looking at the “Winter Wonderland”, this season of freezing temperatures and numbing wetness poses many dangers for our four footed companions. Please follow some common sense rules to help your pets remain happy and healthy during these cold months.

  • Do NOT leave dogs outdoors when the temperature drops. I receive regular calls regarding dogs tied outside during this cold winter weather. We discourage tethering dogs in any weather, but it is especially dangerous this time of year. Dogs left out in the cold too long can get frostbite and hypothermia just as humans do. Responsible dog caregivers do NOT leave their dogs outside in the cold. While dogs may possess some natural protection against winter weather, Iowa’s variety of bitter elements can jeopardize any pet’s health and safety. Even with temps above freezing, the wind chill can still threaten a pet’s life. If you don’t want a dog in the main part of your house, surely there is a heated area that could be kid-gated where he could spend his day in warm comfort. If he has behavioral problems, the solution is not to banish him to the back yard, but to spend time training him. Dogs are usually willing to comply to house rules IF they understand what the rules are. Remember that good caregivers have good dogs! If you absolutely refuse to let your dog into the house, at least fix up a warm corner on the porch, basement, or garage. Use plenty of blankets to provide a barrier from cold floors, and provide him a warm, cozy “den”. There are many small, safe heaters that can be used to warm his den. (Don’t keep pets in unheated areas!)
  • A little extra food is usually recommended in cold weather, and fresh water is an absolute necessity…ice and snow are NOT acceptable substitutes. Your dog needs clean, fresh water available at all times. He will also appreciate a few extra chew toys and other playthings so he isn’t tempted to turn to the furniture or your shoes out of boredom!
  • Shelters are already getting complaints about Christmas puppies. Puppies do not tolerate the cold well, and we admit that it is difficult to housetrain a puppy during the winter. If you recall, we strongly advised against giving puppies as Christmas gifts, but if you did get one, it is now your responsibility to train him. Your dog may feel it’s more convenient to use the floor or carpet, but you can curb this with a regular outdoor comfort-station schedule in which you GO OUT WITH him first thing in the morning, several times during the day, and last thing at night. You made a commitment (and it isn’t the dog’s fault that the weather is lousy!)
  • If you see an animal shivering out in the cold, don’t just ignore him. Perhaps his caregiver doesn’t even realize the dangers, and ignorance is curable by education. Avoid being belligerent or accusatory, but politely explain the dangers. If the friendly approach is unsuccessful, notify the authorities. It is Iowa law that animals be provided ADEQUATE shelter, fresh water (not ice) and fresh food. When you report to the animal control authorities, it is important that you calmly, coherently give brief, specific facts. Exact address of the dog is needed, and it is best to have written documentation of the problem. The authorities are very busy, so sometimes you need to be persistent. If the situation does not improve, report again…and again…and again. A dog’s life may depend on your intervention.

AS I LAY DYING is an observation shared by Patti Ragsdale which I was asked to repeat.

As I lay dying in a pile of ice and snow, I felt a hand touch my matted coat, and saw an angel looking down at me. As gentle hands stroked my fur, I wondered if I had died, released from the never ending agony of chains, neglect, and loneliness. The human angel gently lifted me from the cold frozen ground, bathed my skinny, dirty, body and treated all the wounds and sores.

Her soft touch, kind word, and warm blanket overshadowed the years of suffering when no one cared.

I am no longer lonely and frightened. I am loved.

It’s No Happy New Year for Many Dogs

Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

If you drive around your neighborhood, you will see many chained up dogs shivering in the cold. Winter weather means extra hardship for ‘backyard” dogs, and, as responsible pet caregivers, we acknowledge that it is inhumane treatment, but we seem to just look the other way and are silent. These dogs suffer from frostbite, exposure, and dehydration, and often have nowhere to go to escape the cold and snow. Why do so many dogs end up at the end of a chain? There are many excuses. Animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law, and some caregivers view their dogs as “possessions” to do with as they please. Others just shrug and say that people have always kept dogs that way. Some simply don’t want the animal in the house and resort to a chain to prevent him from running away. Most have tired of the responsibility of adequately caring for a dog or are not willing to deal with a behavior problem, and have simply relegated him to the outdoors—tied or penned up. There are thousands of chained dogs in this country who exist with deprivation and loneliness. Let’s begin the New Year by breaking our silence about all the chained and penned up dogs. Lori Oswald tells this true story of a backyard dog.

Donovan was not a special dog. He never pulled a child from in front of an oncoming car; he didn’t win a ribbon in a dog show; he was quite an ordinary dog. His owners could be considered quite ordinary too…a nice family with two children, who decided fourteen years earlier to get a dog. A dog would be fun. So one day, perhaps at a shopping center giveaway, or maybe from the pet section of the local ads, they found Donovan, and brought him home. At first the kids were excited, but the newness soon wore off. Dad build a small house and they staked him outside with a chain attached to it, agreeing that he would be “just fine” outside. I never met Donovan. Although I regularly visited his house, I never even knew he existed. He lived 24/7 on a six foot chain, digging holes for entertainment, watching as life passed him by. Mom assured everyone that he was “well cared for.” For 14 years Donovan lived out back on his chain, hungering for a little attention and affection. One day he finally escaped his little world on a chain and holes and dog house—he died. Donovan, unfortunately, is not a fictional character. Neither are his owners. They have been looking around for another dog. “We sure miss Donovan,” they lament.

How many Donovans are in your neighborhood? It’s no Happy New Year for dogs on chains, and it is up to us to break our silence and say “NO! It is not okay to allow dogs to be tethered for extended periods of time.” A dog is a pack animal and needs to be treated as part of the family.


Winter’s Icy Grip Affects Our Pets Too

We are definitely in winter’s frigid grip….with record breaking low temperatures, blizzards, and wild weather, meaning shoveling, snowblowing, dealing with bad roads, and sometimes unbearable cold. Eugene O’Neill describes the way most of us feel right now: “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, away, away from here…I do not love thy snow and sleet or icy flows. I am cold, no matter how I warm or clothe me.” Our companion animals do not appreciate this inclement weather either, and caregivers are responsible to keep them safe and healthy.

These below zero temps may be even worse than what the thermometer reads. The wind chill factor can drop the actual temperature by 20 or 30 degrees, so even if your dogs are used to being outside, they need to be brought inside in extreme cold snaps.

Nothing is more fun that cavorting in the snow with your dog, and regular exercise is important when you are both housebound much of the time, but take care to limit the time outdoors. Wipe snow and ice off your dog’s fee…even clean between the toes…after outdoor walks, and be sure to clean lime rock salt or calcium chloride salt off their paws, both of which can cause digestive problems if the dog licks it.

Your dog is smaller and thus more vulnerable to the chills you feel, so just a short exposure to sub-zero temperatures can produce frostbite of the feet, nose, or ears. Frost-bitten skin is usually red or gray and may peel off. It should be treated by applying warm, most washcloths to thaw the affected areas slowly, and if serious, a veterinarian should be contacted for further care. Prolonged exposure to cold weather, especially accompanied by high winds (the wind chill factor) can lower the body temperature. This condition, known as hypothermia, can interfere with normal bodily functions and result in injury or death.

The ASPCA offers these tips to keep your pet safe in cold weather:

  • Pets should NEVER be left outdoors for extended periods of time when it is extremely cold. IF IT IS TOO COLD FOR YOU, IT IS TOO COLD FOR YOUR DOG!
  • Never let your dog off-leash in the snow or ice. He can become disoriented and lost, even in a familiar area.
  • Massaging petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside helps to protect them from the salt and chemical agents, but always take a minute to wipe your dog’s legs and stomach as well as his paws when he comes in from a walk. He might ingest salt or chemicals when grooming himself.
  • Never shave a dog down short during the winter. A longer coat offers warmth. Clothing for dogs has become a fashionable fad, but a high fashion garment is not necessary. Look for a simply styled, easy-on, easy-off coat that covers the underside of the dog as well as the back.
  • Animals like the sweet smell and taste of ethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze, but drinking even a small amount can cause fatal kidney damage. Stay safe, by stowing containers up away from your pet’s reach, and discard bottles that are cracked or leaking. Clean spills thoroughly , and if you think your dog has ingested dangerous chemicals, get him to the vet immediately.
  • All pets need a cozy dog bed with a warm blanket or pillow, and older pets may need a little extra attention in cold weather. Whether it is another orthopedic bed, or a ramp over the frozen steps, small acts of kindness can help your older friend feel fine this winter, and don’t ignore small changes in behavior that might signal a medical problem.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in a car. If the engine is left on, carbon monoxide may endanger his life, and if the engine is off, the temperature in the car will get too cold.
  • If you see or hear of an animal in distress, please contact your local humane society or law enforcement right away. You may mean the difference between life and death for her.

If you keep these precautions in mind, winter can be a fun, healthy time for both you and your dog!


Christmas Is A Time for Miracles

Christmas is a busy time of year, with traveling, family gatherings, and parties, but please don’t forget that it is also the time of miracles. Because you are busy, it’s easy to look past the cold neighbor dog left outside on a chain, or the stray shivering in the cold; perhaps you are the only one who can provide the miracle needed.


Unseen they suffer; unheard they cry;

in loneliness they linger; and in agony they die.

The lighted window shows the room so warm and softly glowing;

A tree so tall with twinkling lights and stacks of presents showing.

While just outside, a starving cat stands shivering in the cold,

And down the street, a stray dog limps…tired, sick, and old.

How can we turn away when we know such sad things are so?

And say they don’t concern us…just close our eyes to what we know.

How can we celebrate Christmas while ignoring those who suffer needlessly?

When all the time we know it’s up to us if improvements are to be. We must not turn our backs on their pain just because it’s hard to see. They have no other places to turn; they’ve only you and me.

Mary Martin relates her true story about their miracle dog:

We had promised our son for quite a while that we would get him a dog, but we kept putting it off…we were just so busy. We procrastinated as long as we could before we finally took a trip to the area shelter where we lost our hearts to a scrawny, obviously frightened puppy (not realizing that he would grow up to be quite large one day). We named our new pup Ralph—but maybe he should have been Inch, because of the way he inched his way into our hearts.

Our agreement was “No dog in the house.” We had a large fenced yard and a nice, sturdy doghouse for Ralph, but he wanted to be with his family, so he was soon allowed him into the kitchen. He was obedient, but still longed to go wherever we went. He would lie on the kitchen floor with only his paws on the carpet, then slowly inch forward until we gave in and said, “Oh, come on!” It wasn’t long before he gained our trust and we gave him the run of the house.

He assumed that everyone was his friend, and if a new person walked in the yard, Ralph was there to greet him.. Then, as we would stand and talk, Ralph would slowly inch his way forward to gently lean on the visitor’s leg. Most people would automatically reach down to pet him, but if they didn’t, he would gradually lean a little more, then a little more, until he got the attention he wanted. With patience and persistence, he would earn the love of the most non-dog friendly people. We chuckled because we knew Ralph’s tactics.

Ralph was a mild mannered, well behaved guy, but he wasn’t sure about his first Christmas with us. That big tree filling up the whole corner in the living room just didn’t seem right. His hackles would go up and the growls would come, until he finally accepted the fact that the weird looking monstrosity was not a threat to him or his family. Then he decided that it was his responsibility to protect the tree from intruders…he would lie full length in front of the tree and carefully evaluate visitors. Ralph learned to love Christmas as much as the rest of us, and every year he would station himself as guard dog. He never snooped through the gifts under the tree, and on Christmas morning he listened attentively as we read the Christmas story, and watched politely as we opened our presents. When he got his own gifts, he tore them open with the same enthusiasm we did.

Ralph was a miracle dog. He taught us to recognize many of the miracles of life. We can all learn from this gentle giant: By patiently persisting, we can accomplish great things. Inch by inch. And if we can’t do great things, we can do small things in a great way.

It is our prayer that we all enjoy a blessed Christmas filled with miracles.

Prepare for Cold Weather

The weather outside is frightful, reminding us that winter will soon be here, and we are beginning our seasonal rituals to prepare for cold weather. We bring out heavier clothing, weatherproof our homes, and spend less time outdoors, but sadly, many pet caregivers seem to forget that pets can’t put on a sweater, or add a warm, cozy blanket to their beds, and if you look around your neighborhood, you will see dogs living outdoors with inadequate care. Millions of dogs live outdoors…all day, every day. When it rains, they are out there. When it’s 99 degrees, they are out there, often without shade, and when the temp drops to 10 degrees with blowing snow and winds, they are still out there, shivering, whimpering, longing to be inside.  Some people just assume that their animals can adapt to live outdoors regardless of the weather, and a concerned neighbor may be the only hope for these poor animals.  Without being judgmental, you may be able to convince them that they are putting their pets in danger…they may agree to make some changes…or they may not. If the dog is in distress, and no one will do anything, please don’t ignore the situation. Get involved…offer to help…and set a positive example by protecting your own pet companions in cold weather.

  • Take your dog for a winter check-up before winter really hits. Your vet can check to make sure he doesn’t have any medical problems that will make him more vulnerable to the cold.
  • Keep your dog inside! If you have to take her out, stay outside with her.  Remember if you are feeling any distress from the cold, so is she!
  • It’s a good idea to have your furnace checked for carbon monoxide leaks before you turn it on, both for your own health and that of your pets. Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, but can cause problems ranging from fatigue and headaches to difficulty breathing.  Space heaters, electric blankets, and other heating products that may cause house fires should be closely monitored.
  • Some products made for winter can be very dangerous or even lethal to pets. Ice melts and salt, if ingested can cause serious gastrointestinal inflammation.  The best way to prevent ingestion of salts and ice melts is to wash your pet’s feet after coming indoors from walks. Antifreeze poisoning is common in winter, and even a small amount of the traditional antifreeze is extremely toxic.  We suggest that you use products containing less-dangerous propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.
  • Never leave your dog alone in your car during the winter. Just as the sweltering heat of summer can kill car-bound dogs, frigid winter temperatures can freeze them to death. Never let your dog off leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm—dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost.
  • I don’t promote “dressing up” your dog, but some dogs would really benefit from a sweater with a high collar or a coat with coverage from the neck to the base of the tail, also covering the belly. Our favorites are Fido Fleece coats by Premier Pets because they are easy on, easy off, and cover the underside of the dog.

As the cold winds howl outside your door, and your thoughts turn to burrowing under a cozy blanket, remember that your dog needs creature comforts too. Make sure she has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

Winter is a beautiful time of year, and if you take a few precautions, you and your dog can have a fabulous time!

If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?—Percy Bysshe Shelley