When it comes to keeping our four-legged friends comfortable in the cold, local police officers say it's not only kind -- it's the law.
Authorities say you are required to provide adequate shelter for your pet in Tennessee and Virginia or you will face a fine. Residents are asked to keep an eye out for any animals left out in the cold.
One thing animal control workers find is that people often get the wrong size when it comes to dog houses. "If you mismatch them, then it's difficult for the dog house to hold body heat," said Lt. Glenn James with the Bristol, Tennessee Police Department. "If you've got a small dog, you need a small dog house. If you have a medium-sized dog, you want a medium-sized house. You don't want to get the dog house too big."
James added that with any kind of wind chill, it's important to make sure the entrance to the dog house is shielded. "Another thing that would be helpful is if you can create some sort of a wind break to keep the wind off the dog house," said Lt. James. "Therefore, it doesn't push the heat out or cause the heat to evaporate."
Authorities say you should call your local police department's non-emergency line if you see an animal without adequate shelter. That number in Bristol, Tennessee is (423) 989-5600.
The maximum fine for not providing shelter for your animal within city limits is $50, plus court costs.
Here are some more cold weather pet safety tips from the Humane Society:
Keep pets indoors and warm
Don't leave dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature drops. Regardless of the season, short-haired, very young, or old dogs and all cats should never be left outside without supervision. Dogs and cats are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. During walks, short-haired dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater.
No matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. Pets are sensitive to severe cold, and they are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia when they are outdoors during extreme cold snaps. Exposed skin on noses, ears, and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage.
Take precautions if your dog spends a lot of time outside
A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, he or she must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.
Help neighborhood outdoor cats
If there are outdoor cats, either owned pets or community cats (feral cats, that are scared of people, and strays, who are lost or abandoned pets) in your area, remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It's easy to give them a hand.
Give your pets plenty of water
Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
Be careful with cats, wildlife, and cars
Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
Protect paws from salt
The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.
Avoid antifreeze poisoning
Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife, and family.
The best tip of all: keep your pets with you
Probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your dog or cat inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for walks and exercise, but kept inside the rest of the time.
Dogs and cats are social animals who crave human companionship. Your animal companions deserve to live indoors with you and your family.