WESTERLY — Warmer temperatures and a mild start to the winter have helped to curb the number of calls for animals left in harsh conditions — and officials are hoping pet owners will take precautions during the coming months to help keep it that way.
Westerly Animal Control Officer Art Smith said Monday that a slow start to the snow season has led to a reduction in calls. But he reminded residents to take precautions to protect their pets.
"It has been a quiet winter so far in terms of calls for animals left outside, and that's a good thing," said Smith. "We've been lucky this far to have a mild winter, but it's early in the season and it's important to take precautions to keep your pets safe."
In Rhode Island, the issue has attracted attention in recent years after a Warwick man was investigated in late 2017 for leaving his dogs in the cold for several hours at a time in subzero temperatures, according to news reports.
The breeder, Clifford Dennis, was training his pit bulls to serve as hunting dogs and had left them outdoors during cold weather. An investigation found no criminal wrongdoing, according to reports, and all the dogs were eventually determined to be in good health.
When it comes to protecting your pets from winter weather, the most important step to take is to make sure they have access to shelter, according to the website ProPetHero.com. The site is dedicated to pet-related first aid services and training.
"While we can embrace sweater weather, for our pets the transition can often be harsher," the site said.
Although some dogs such as huskies and malamutes are more adapted to surviving colder weather, Smith said he regularly reminds owners that no dog should be left outside in the middle of a snowstorm or rainstorm. Even when temperatures are 40 degrees, as they were on Monday night, he said that shoreline winds can cause severe windchill and cause the most hardy animals to suffer hypothermia when left outside for long periods of time.
"We are simply encouraging everyone to use common sense. If it's too cold for you or your family members to be outside for that long, then it's too cold for your dog," Smith said.
The website also suggested a variety of other tips to keep your pet safe, including checking your car to make sure your dog or cat isn't huddled in warm areas surrounding it. Check your dogs and cats for cracked skin or paws that can be caused by road salts, and making sure they remain hydrated and warm. Smith said residents should also be wary of antifreeze leaks and other winterizing chemicals as they can cause sickness.
Reach out for help
When the temperatures drop, home heating costs go up. For someone with lesser means or who is going through a rough time, that can mean the difference between spending on your pet's needs and buying the oil to keep the house warm.
Smith said that if you or your friends or family are struggling, reach out for help. Animal control officers are connected to local shelters and veterinary clinics and can help to find foster homes to temporarily offer aid and adoptive services if the family must give up the dog.
"There are a number of services, both temporary and permanent, that can help you find a more suitable home for your dog or cat," he said.
For needy families who would like to keep their pets, there are also services to assist in providing food and proper veterinary services. Smith warns that these programs are based on income and that not everyone is eligible. All support for these services is also temporary, he said.
He encouraged anyone who needs assistance to reach out to the nonprofit Stand Up For Animals and the Westerly Animal Shelter to explore options available to them.
"These animals are part of our family and, in turn, we need to take care of them," Smith said. "If we can find a bridge to help keep an animal with its owner, we are going to do what it takes to try and build it."