By Ruthanne Johnson
MONTE VISTA— As Monte Vista’s ordinance and animal control officer, Shane Porter sees a disturbing variety of animal mistreatment— dogs tethered on lines day in and day out that never allow them to move beyond the small circle where they eat, sleep and defecate. He sees strays— abandoned pets, like one call a couple of weeks ago to a business on Monte Vista’s backstreets about a dog abandoned and tied up on a leash. That same week, he picked up eight additional strays that he took to Conour Shelter, which was already at capacity.
Dogs and other pets left outside in freezing temperatures is another form of animal cruelty that’s not uncommon on Porter’s watch. “I see pets out in the cold weather all the time,” he said, “left outside with only a tarp, piece of wood or a car to crawl under for shelter.”
Pets are just as vulnerable as people when it comes to freezing temperatures, Porter said. “They can get frostbite and hypothermia just like we can.” In Colorado, it’s a misdemeanor to leave pets outside with no access to shelter from the cold. And according to Porter, the law is poised to change to make it a felony.
Before writing a ticket or seizing pets, Porter typically tries to educate pet owners to give them a chance to either take the dog inside or provide some other adequate shelter, like an insulated doghouse, a corner of a garage with blankets to crawl under or maybe a mudroom with a dog bed. If the pet owner doesn’t comply, fines and animal cruelty charges can be filed. Additional shelter fees could also apply in cases where the pet is seized.
Signs of overly cold dogs that pet owners can look for include incessant barking, shivering, constant pacing or a lethargic or immobile pet. On a couple of recent nuisance calls about a barking dog, Porter discovered one little dog so cold his teeth were chattering. He’s also seen dogs lifting their paw and switching their weight from paw to paw to avoid the cold. All dogs display stress differently, he said. “That’s why it’s important to know your dog and pay attention.”
Old and sick dogs are often the most vulnerable to the cold— as are short-haired breeds such as pit bulls, Dobermans, greyhounds and chihuahuas. Many short-haired breeds don’t have double coats, which is made up of an outer layer of long, smooth guard hairs and an undercoat of thick, fuzzy hairs. The undercoat protects dogs against extreme temperatures in winter. To tell if a dog has a single coat, part his fur and look at the hairs. Even-looking hairs with no soft undercoat indicates a single-coated dog.
For vulnerable-type dogs just going outside to do their business or for a short walk, wearing a dog sweater and limiting time outside can help. With a little training, pets can even get used to wearing protective booties.
It’s also a good idea to bathe dogs less frequently and increase their protein intake during the winter months. This helps keep their coat healthy and it will add a little extra weight for warmth. “Two feedings a day is a good rule a thumb in the winter,” said Carla Taylor, office manager for the Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital.
Don’t forget about horses, outdoor cats and other animals, adds Taylor, who makes sure all of her pets (horses, dogs, emus, chickens and bunnies) have shelters with three sides, doors facing away from the wind and nice, thick bundles of hay. Staying hydrated is also key in staying warm, which means some sort of moving or heated water source to prevent the water from freezing.
Porter said one of his goals in the upcoming year is to update Monte Vista’s ordinance regarding pet shelter to something more definitive. “We’ll be rewriting the code to define adequate shelter, and basically stating that adequate shelter is a doghouse of some sort and also change the tether from three to 10 feet.”
In the meantime, anyone concerned about a dog or other animal they see out in the freezing cold can call the Monte Vista police dispatch. “Out chief’s motto is: ‘If you see something, say something,’” Porter said.