Monday was the first time in about a week that temperatures rose to over 40 degrees, and freezing temperatures are sure to return throughout the winter season.
There is no law directly prohibiting keeping a pet outdoors when it is cold outside other than animal cruelty, which would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, Mountlake Terrace Animal Control Ofcr. Elena McKee answered a few questions for MLTnews to explain what is legal and what is safe for outdoor pets.
MLTnews: Is cold weather dangerous to pets? How cold is too cold?
Ofcr. Elena McKee: Pets are susceptible to frostbite, just like people. Even if their bodies are warm, the extremities could be at risk of frostbite.
Also, with our typical patterns of melting and refreezing, it can be a concern that pet fur could be caught in ice when water refreezes, preventing the animal from moving to shelter.
There is no specific temperature that is too cold for all pets and each situation will be evaluated on the pet’s circumstances, but law enforcement prefers no pets be left outside when temperatures are below freezing.
Regardless of temperature, all dogs must be provided proper shelter, food and water when left outside. Proper shelter is composed of four walls and a roof.
MN: What are some ways to help an outdoor dog feel comfortable in the extreme cold?
EM: Proper shelter and electric warming pads/beds
MN: Is there a law against keeping a pet outdoors in the cold?
EM: Unfortunately, not in this state. It must be evaluated by the conditions and the pets’ behavior and health, at which point an animal cruelty charge can be considered.
MN: What are signs of distress in a cold pet?
EM: Lethargy and low body temperatures are the first signs. Extremities turning unusual colors, pain and swelling are more extreme indications.
MN: What can a neighbor do if they are concerned for an outdoor animal?
EM: The best thing to do is call 9-1-1.
MN: What is the minimum and maximum punishment for a dog being left in the cold?
EM: I will site the Revised Code of Washington. Based on that code, First Degree Animal Cruelty is a felony resulting in up to 5 years and $10,000 fine. RCW Second Degree Animal Cruelty is a gross misdemeanor, resulting in up to 1 year and $5,000 fine.
Should someone leave a dog in a car during extreme hot or cold temperatures, our city code applies, which is also a gross misdemeanor.
MN: Anything else to add?
EM: Every city and county will have variations of their own. If there is concern for an outdoor animal, citizens should contact their local jurisdiction.