*The thoughts and opinions in each post on this blog are those solely of the attributed author and do not necessarily extend to all program collaborators or to Ethics in Animal Care itself.*
Baby it’s cold outside and while for many companion animals, this means cold weather zoomies and more indoor games and cuddles with their families, there are others who could use some extra help during the winter months. Both dogs living in shelters and those whose owners choose to have them live outdoors face unique challenges when the temperatures drop. What follows are some specific ways we can all pitch in to keep them warm and cared for during one of their hardest times of year.
Animal shelters range from those that have warm indoor spaces for all their dogs (and other animals) with quality climate control to those with little to no climate control and even those that are outdoor only. Step one is finding out what your local shelter’s situation is and asking them what items on their wish list they need the most.
- Donate Blankets & Dog Coats/Sweaters. Often even in climate controlled shelters, dogs benefit from a cozy winter blanket to snuggle up with and a jacket to wear on outings outside of their kennels. But for dogs kenneled without temperature control, these items are essential. If you live in a community with an outdoor only shelter, look into donations of straw (not hay) which stands up to moisture and retains warmth outdoors better than blankets.
- Donate Kennel Enrichment Supplies. While the cold temperatures don’t *always* mean less time out of their kennels, it’s often a side effect when the weather is harsh enough. For dogs with indoor/outdoor kennels, the cold temperatures often mean they are closed into the interior portion of their kennels for protection from the elements. This means they’re confined to a smaller space, potentially with shorter breaks. Donating supplies like Kongs (and peanut butter & wet food to stuff them with!), bully sticks, Nylabones, puzzle toys, and durable playthings of all kinds can do a lot to improve shelter dogs’ quality of life year round but there’s no better time to donate than now!
- Foster or Adopt! It goes without saying that if you’re looking to adopt a companion animal, your local animal shelter is a wonderful place to look. But getting a dog out of the shelter temporarily can make a huge difference too! Shelters will often have a list of their most vulnerable dogs who are a priority for a foster home but there’s a wide enough variety that no matter your living situation, there’s (almost) always a pup available to foster who’d be just the right fit for you.
- Volunteer! Not all of us are able to bring another animal into our homes and that’s okay. There is still plenty we can do and signing up to volunteer is hands down one of the most impactful ways to get involved. YOU can be the one giving those dogs their kennel breaks, passing out enrichment goodies, making sure they have blankets to cozy up with, and handing out extra cold weather cuddles. With enough volunteer support, shelter dogs can get all the potential goodness of winter like those zoomies, games, and snuggles that companion animals with permanent families enjoy.
OUTDOOR ONLY DOGS
For many of us, the hardest part of creating positive change in this situation is finding a way to talk to a neighbor, friend, or family member in a way that doesn’t put them on the defensive. But communicating for action means keeping our emotions in check and staying focused on the outcome. Before you start a conversation with the goal of helping make an outdoor only dog’s life better, it can be helpful to have specifics to draw from.
- Be Prepared. Think about what you’re going to say to be persuasive without being confrontational. Know the facts on outdoor only dogs including their physical and behavioral vulnerability. Consider offering dog walks to start building a relationship or, if possible, for the dog to come have a slumber party at your house in particularly bad weather. Know your local community’s resources for low-cost vet care, training, and pet food so you can help troubleshoot potential barriers.
- Offer to Donate Supplies. If the owner is willing to bring the dog indoors, you can offer supplies like a crate, bedding, leash and harness, food dishes, enrichment toys, and training vouchers to make the transition successful. If the owner insists that the dog stay outdoors, offer appropriate shelter, straw bedding, supplemental food, and enrichment items (see Straw For Dogs for more info). If both dog and owner are homeless, find out if your community has any shelter options that allow pets.
- Report Animal Cruelty. If a dog is at immediate risk and you are not able to work with their owner or are simply uncomfortable doing so, get the professionals involved.
–> Looking for ways to help outdoor cats during the winter months? The Humane Society has you covered with some excellent tips and resources!