Keep a warm eye on pets

Parkersburg broke a record last week. It reached a low of -8 degrees on a date that had never before seen such a chill, I’m told. In fact, it has been unusually, painfully cold for what seems like a very long time, here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, and across the eastern half of the country.

Tell us something we don’t know, I’m sure you’re all thinking.

But it’s a point I have to stress because, as bad as it is for bundled up humans — most of us only out in it for a few minutes as we scurry from our workplaces to our cars — imagine what it is like for animals who are generally outside pets. I’m talking specifically about the dogs (and sometimes other animals) that spend most of their lives tied up or confined outside the homes of their owners.

While it is not the way I would want to keep a pet, I understand there are some households for which keeping a dog on a long lead in the yard, or in a fenced-in area most of the time makes sense to them. (Keeping them on a three-foot chain tied to a wooden box in the center of what has become a soggy mud hole is a different story, however.)

I was contacted not so long ago by someone who worked with a very well-intentioned rescue organization in Massachusetts, who wanted my help in finding a home for a dog they had gotten wind of, near Morgantown. Among the issues for the animal was that it had spent the majority of its time tied up outside a home. (However, the folks at the rescue organization failed to note that there was also plenty of photographic evidence that the dog got to spend time INSIDE the house, too.)

I confess I bristled a bit. I understand there are some cultural differences that might make it impossible for a person in Massachusetts to understand the relationship some families have with their dogs. But it is unreasonable to expect that everyone who owns a dog is going to make it a high-ranking part of their families, much as we might wish that was the case.

Not every animal we happen to see outside a home when we drive by is being abused or neglected; and not every dog owner reacts like I did to the recent cold by wondering whether their dog needs a coat and little boots.

Having said all that, during this kind of weather, it is not only neglectful to leave an animal tied outside, it can be deadly. At the end of December, the Toledo Blade ran a story about a dog that was found dead — frozen solid — on a front porch. It was not tied up, but, apparently, had simply been waiting to be let inside.

In weather that has failed to breach the freezing mark for what seems like weeks, it is more important to keep an eye on those animals we suspect might be spending enough time outside to be dangerous, and mention it to the owners, or notify animal control if necessary. The American Veterinary Medical Association says it simply: “No pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather.”

Even those of us who let their dogs curl up on the couch with a couple of blankets on these Arctic evenings have to keep an eye out for other dangers, such as cinders, salt, other deicers and chemicals that can be poisonous, accumulating in dogs’ paws or on their fur. And, if you’ve got an extraordinarily clumsy mutt like mine, watch out for a little impromptu figure skating (and crashing) on patches of ice.

I know we’ve all got enough on our minds in this kind of weather, and our priority is making sure we and the other humans who cross our paths are warm and well taken care of. But once that is accomplished, don’t forget about the animals we have brought up to depend on us. Don’t leave them trying to face this deadly cold weather on their own.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at