Cold weather can be deadly for pets. As the temperature plummets in many parts of the country, the Humane Society of the United States sees a marked increase in the number of complaints about dogs and cats who have been left outside with no food or shelter.
We encourage you to contact local law enforcement agencies because pets left outside in extreme temperatures, especially without food and shelter, are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and even death. Their owners are at risk of facing criminal charges.
The act of leaving a pet outside without food or adequate shelter often receives less attention than a violent attack against an animal, but neglect is a crime. "Especially in these cold months, it is important for people to bring their pets inside and for others to report neglected animals to law enforcement,” says Ashley Mauceri, the HSUS manager for cruelty response, who fields these calls.
One of the most common forms of animal cruelty, cases of animals left outside in dangerous weather are investigated more by police and animal control agencies than any other form of animal abuse. Our most constant companions—dogs and cats—feel the effects of winter weather as much as we do, only they are often cast outside to weather the cold or a storm owing to a misconception that the fur on their backs will insulate them from suffering. Without proper shelter, food and water, these domesticated animals’ chances of survival in frigid temperatures is greatly decreased. Any pet owners who aren't sure what protections their pets need during cold weather can read our cold-weather advice for keeping pets safe.
While views on animal welfare vary from region to region, there are laws in place in every state to prevent needless suffering. Callers to the HSUS report numerous cases across the country of animals left out in the cold, but the organization is also working with an increasing number of law enforcement agencies that recognize the importance of intervention in these cases.
- Animal neglect is considered a misdemeanor crime in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
- Felony penalties can be levied in Massachusetts and Oklahoma for any animal neglect case.
- Felony charges can be applied in animal neglect resulting in death in California, Connecticut, Florida and Washington, D.C.
- Felony charges can be applied in Georgia animal cruelty cases where malice is proved.
- Report what you see: Take note of the date, time, exact location and the type of animal(s) involved and write down as many details as possible about the situation. Video and photographic documentation of the animal, the location, the surrounding area, etc. (even a cell phone photo) will help bolster your case.
- Contact your local animal control agency or county sheriff's office and present your complaint and evidence. Take detailed notes regarding whom you speak with and when. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied.
- If you need advice, call the HSUS or email us. Because we aren't a law-enforcement agency, we cannot take legal action, but we can provide expert counsel.
- If you have pets, follow our advice for keeping them safe in cold weather.
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