Officials in St. Louis, Missouri announced earlier this month that cats and dogs left outdoors in the cold will be confiscated and their owners cited with animal cruelty.
I’m not sure this was a one-time event, or whether any cold snap will mean seizure of outdoor pets, but it’s a situation that needs to be addressed across the areas of the U.S. where temperatures dip to dangerous levels.
Mayor Francis Slay said search teams will be searching their city for people looking for a warm place to sleep. Thankfully, the good mayor also has a soft spot for animals. Dogs and cats are on the list to be searched for. I have to believe this will be the procedure for any time temperatures drop to a certain level.
Stray Rescue of St. Louis animal rescuer Randy Grim said his organization is also mobilizing to rescue dogs that are left in the cold, and has sent out a plea for owners to bring their animals inside. He cautioned that dogs will die once the temperatures drop. Police Chief Sam Dotson said extra officers will be on duty to check for animals, and the owners will be cited. If any pets are found on chains, they’ll be taken away..
This topic hits me hard, as it was how Julianne Westberry and I became what I would call friends at the time. Back in January 2014, our area was hit with a dangerous cold snap, much like South Carolina is experiencing this week. For those of you who don’t know, Julianne’s house of cat hell was only about 25 miles from where I now live.
When I started getting posts about freezing dogs in the cold in Anderson County posted on my Facebook page, I turned to Julianne. She was sending out friends in the area to check on the dogs. We stayed awake all night a few times doing this, chatting on Facebook, and possibly saved a few dogs from freezing to death.
Cats are more likely to find a warm spot to cuddle up and stay warm. Or their owners (or a kind neighbor) are more likely to bring a cat inside than a dog. Feral colonies have caregivers who provide warm enclosures for their cats. I feed a feral colony at work, and they have a shelter where they can huddle and be protected from the wind and elements. Still, it’s not a good idea to leave a cat outside if the temperatures are too cold for you to be outside.
Dogs don’t have it so lucky. They’re left abandoned on chains, shunned by their owners, and they do freeze to death. I see at least one report a day of a dog being found frozen to the group, simply because of owner ignorance.
An article by the Humane Society of the United States states
“One of the most common forms of animal cruelty, cases of animals left outside in dangerous weather are investigated more by police and animal control agencies than any other form of animal abuse.”
Animal neglect is a misdemeanor in all 50 states, and felony charges can be made in Massachusetts and Oklahoma. A neglect charge resulting in death can have the owner charged with a felony in California, Connecticut, Florida and Washington, D.C.
One piece of advice I can give all of the readers here, as I know many of you are also dog lovers, is to report any animal you believe in danger from the cold to the police. Write down when and where you saw the animal, and take a photo if possible. Document the names of any officials you speak with on the situation. Then follow up by driving back by later, or find some way to check on that pet, even if it’s just a phone call. Police departments and animal control units often fail to act on reports. Especially if they have other things to do.
Find out the names of a few rescue groups in your area, and keep their phone number handy. Don’t sit back and do nothing if you see an animal in need, because you may be their only hope to survive the night. And please, keep your own pet as warm as you’d like to be when it’s cold outside.