Today’s expected wind- chill temperature plunge into the negative 20s continues a brutally long stretch of extremely frigid conditions in the Mahoning Valley that has taken a punishing toll on our daily way of life.
Fortunately, for most of us, exposure to the health-endangering Arctic conditions is fleeting, as we can escape reasonably rapidly into the warmth and security of comfortably toasty homes and workplaces.
Many of man’s best friends, however, lack that luxury. Scores of dogs in our community are left outside to battle the harrowing elements the best they can while often confined and chained with no hope for escape and warmth.
It’s bad enough that many dogs must lead a tethered life, as chained dogs tend to be socially isolated, leading to aggression, biting, excessive barking and psychological problems, according to the Humane Society of the United States. But those problems are compounded by the addition of bone-chilling temperatures that will freeze their food and water supply, promote frostbite and even lead to death.
That’s why this week’s appeals from Dianne Fry, Mahoning County dog warden, and Jason Cooke, a Boardman animal-rights activist, to owners of outside dogs to bring them inside during the duration of this harsh cold snap must not be ignored.
As Cooke rightly pointed out, “the issue we have is dogs that never come off of the chain. That’s a horrible existence. I guarantee a lot of dogs will get frostbite in the next week, and some will die.”
PROTECTIONS FOR OUTDOOR DOGS
If dogs must be left outside even for short periods of time, they must be safeguarded. Animal humane agencies recommend shelters that are large enough to allow dogs to move comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat. In addition, the floor should be raised a few inches from the ground and covered with straw or cedar shavings.
Even though some dogs are better acclimated to withstand cold conditions, no dog should be left outside in the subzero conditions of recent days, the county dog warden emphasized.
We commend the staffs of the dog warden and of Mahoning County Animal Charity, the only humane society in Mahoning County, for their work in rescuing hundreds of dogs from abominable conditions.
Ohio’s animal-abuse statutes allow for confiscation of companion pets when clear evidence shows they have been denied “access to shelter from heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight, or if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer.”
In addition, the Ohio law permits any state resident to rescue an animal that has been confined for more than 15 hours without food or water.
Animal advocates, however, do not generally recommend that individuals take the law into their own hands for risk of confrontations and legal hassles. We agree.
Instead, they should report suspected abuse to humane agents, and do so just once so as not to tie up limited lines for other reports.
In the Valley, they can contact Animal Charity at 330-788-1064 or email reports to ACOhumanedepartment@gmail.com.
Communities also can do their part to make humane agents’ work more productive and chained animals’ lives more comfortable by adopting ordinances regulating tethering and banning it under certain conditions, such as during periods of extreme cold or heat. Nine communities in the Valley have adopted such measures; others should follow suit.
Ideally, a statewide law regulating the use of a tether would be enacted. Sadly, the Animal Protection Initiative sponsored by Democratic State Rep. John Barnes that would have banned tethering from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., limited the practice to six hours per day and outlawed it during inclement weather – died a slow death in the last session of the Ohio General Assembly.
We’d hope Barnes or another compassionate state legislator considers reintroducing it with a more aggressive lobbying push.
Ideally, however, such legislative initiatives would not be necessary if all companion pet owners merely paid heed to this chilling but common-sense recognition: Extreme cold kills.