Late last year, Pennsylvania investigators found a dog named Cam dead and frozen solid on a heavy chain, wedged between a small dog house and a fence. He appeared to have been digging for warmth when he died. As heartbreaking as this story is, unfortunately, it is not an uncommon one this time of year. As temperature dip punishingly low – accompanied by ice, snow and wind – the body count of animals left to freeze outside by owners begins to mount.
This has been an important issue for the Humane Society of the United States, and one on which we have focused our attention and resources for many years now. As we do with every animal protection issue we tackle, we have attacked this problem at different levels: by educating the public about responsible animal care and the need to protect companion animals from cold weather; by training law enforcement officers in many cruelty issues, including how to assess whether a dog has proper protections and pursuing investigations; and finally through changing state laws to protect the thousands of American dogs who live outdoors.
In 2018, we made more progress across the country with a number of state legislatures and local governments passing protections for dogs who live outdoors. With HSUS support, advocates took this issue to their local commissioners and hundreds of local ordinances now set humane standards for chaining, demand that dogs be brought inside during extreme weather, or require proper shelter from the elements.
In the past few weeks alone, communities in Buffalo, New York; La Grange, Georgia; and Mebane City, North Carolina, have passed ordinances to prevent dogs from spending their entire lives at the end of a chain.
We have had tremendous victories at the state level, too. Dogs in Rhode Island will be brought inside starting this month, thanks to a comprehensive upgrade to the animal cruelty law signed by the governor last year. As many state legislators head back to work this month, we hope they will follow Rhode Island’s lead. The HSUS is supporting and pushing for similar legislation in more than a dozen states. Some of the proposed bills, including bills in Delaware, Indiana and Virginia, will fix loopholes in existing language and others will create basic standards where there are none. Our goal in every state is to provide relief to dogs who live outdoors by creating clear, reasonable standards of care.
To ensure that law enforcement agencies have the proper tools, the HSUS’s Law Enforcement Training Center has been training thousands of officers each year on assessing whether a dog has proper protections and how to pursue investigations when conditions become criminal. The widely celebrated passage of Libre’s Law in Pennsylvania brought about significant changes, including enhancements for dogs who live outdoors. The training center partnered with agencies throughout the state to provide free trainings to officers who are now tasked with enforcing the new provisions. Pennsylvania will also soon introduce a bill to protect dogs by establishing definitive standards for outdoor shelter, and preventing them from being left outside during extreme weather.
If you have pets, be sure to keep them sheltered and preferably indoors. Here are some tips on how to protect outdoor animals, including cats. And if you encounter a pet left in the cold, politely let the owner know you’re concerned. Some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets or livestock, and will be quick to correct any problems you address. If someone you raise these concerns with responds poorly or their animals continue to be in danger, follow our steps on reporting winter-time neglect.
The woman responsible for Cam’s terrible death was found guilty of felony animal cruelty, and properly so. At the same time, we can all agree that dogs deserve better than the fate Cam suffered. This legislative session, as we have in previous years, the HSUS will work alongside advocates and legislators to ensure dogs receive proper protections under the law, including an upgraded shelter definition in Cam’s state of Pennsylvania. No dog deserves to be left outside to suffer in cold weather, and we are fighting hard to make sure no dog is.