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January 2, 2008 > Ohlone Humane Society

Ohlone Humane Society

By Nancy Lyon

As I sit in my cozy office next to my little heater I feel grateful that unlike so many less fortunate creatures, I won't freeze when the sun sets. A window in one room looks out at the bird feeder where mourning doves in the tree are fluffed up trying to stay warm. This is a tough time for animals and humans forced to try and survive in extreme weather.

When it comes to our companion animals you often hear that because they are not human that somehow Mother Nature has given them this miraculous ability to adjust to all types of weather. While that would make it an easy out for some who are supposed to be their "guardians" - it just isn't true.

Last week, as temperatures dropped to the lowest so far this season, I had a call for special veterinary assistance from a man who felt uncomfortable about his very old and sick dog shivering outside in the cold. Despite my telling him that his dog needed to be inside and warm, he was reluctant to bring her in because she might leave hair and he was sensitive to it. If she was "lucky" she was probably consigned to the cold garage at night. This mind-set occurs way too often and the results are an act of cruelty.

Despite their "fur" coats, domesticated animals like cats, dogs and other animals depend on their human family for protection from extreme weather such as freezing temperatures, rain and wind. And while some animals such as Huskies and Samoyeds may be more suited to very cold weather, the majority of dogs and other animals need our awareness of their plight and our protection.

California law mandates that companion animals must have adequate protection from the elements. That's as it should be but it's hoped that compassion and a sense of responsibility would be what moves us to care for those who cannot care for themselves. They, like humans, can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite and the wind-chill factor can threaten your animal friend's life no matter what the temperature, with young and senior animals especially at risk.

If a doggy door leading to the outside from your home isn't an option and you absolutely must leave your dog outside while you are away during the day, set up a suitable dog house in an area protected from wind, rain and cold. It should be dry and draft-free and large enough to allow a dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his or her body heat. Have it raised a few inches off the ground and covered with insulating material and the entrance turned way from prevailing winds. And, when you come home - bring him inside with you.

It's not only dogs but cats, rabbits and other small animals that are subject to the same dangers and should be protected in warm and dry indoor areas. Short-haired or geriatric animals or those with health problems need extra protective warmth and if they are spending a lot of time outdoors they need more food in the winter, just trying to keep warm depletes energy.

No matter what your species, winter weather can be tough on old bones. Arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather so take special care to handle your critter gently, watch out for icy walks that may cause injuries or chilling, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and administer any necessary medications provided or approved by your veterinarian.

Poor feral kitties and small wildlife will try to survive as best they can. Because of this, warm car engines are dangerous for unwary heat-seeking critters. Parked cars that may seem a haven from the cold can turn into a death trap. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

There are so many things you can do to ensure their well-being. Just remember your non-human family has requirements very similar to your for their basic needs...adequate shelter to survive, food, care when they are no longer young or healthy, understanding, companionship, and love.

Simply by being open to these needs, you can help alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than yourself. Please include in your New Year's resolutions a promise to lend a helping hand to the needy of this very challenging world. Extend it to homeless humans and our animal friends by making the effort to bring them in from the cold and into your hearts.

One of my favourite quotes is by a very wise and caring man -

"The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret.... It has come to believe that compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind." ~Albert Schweitzer, Novel Peace Prize address, "The Problem of Peace in the World Today"

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