Keep Fido and Fluffy Safe When the Weather Turns Cold

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 10, 2015

According to ABC 6 News, early New Years Day, Toni Liberatore, a Burrillville resident walking her dog in the extremely cold weather, called the Town’s animal control officer after she discovered an elderly Italian Greyhound lying almost unconscious under a truck parked near her home, freezing from the frigid weather.

During the news story, Liberatore  told reporter Samantha Lavien that the severely neglected dog was in bad shape.  She described the female Greyhound as being very thin, having extremely long nails, and diseased teeth.

An emotional distraught Liberatore described the condition of the dog after finding it under the truck.  “She was like holding an ice-cube to my body.  She was frozen.  She was pretty much in and out, said Liberatore. “She couldn’t hold her own head up she was extremely emaciated, I could feel every bone in her body,” she observed

ABC News exclusive story went viral, being placed on Facebook and tweeted throughout the internet, sending the story to all corners of the world.

Burrillville animal control officials moved quickly to save the elderly animal, in need of veterinary care, states Police Lt. John Connors, who oversees the town’s animal control division.  The small Greyhound, showing signs of hypothermia, was immediately transported to an emergency animal clinic for treatment. After emergency care, using heating pads and fluids to increase the animal’s body temperature, the dog, now dubbed Elsa, was than transferred to Northern Rhode Island Animal Hospital for further medical care.

After the first day of medical treatments, the dog’s temperature became normal, noted Lt. Connors.  Elsa was released two days ago.

No Intent of Abuse

Lt. Connors stated that the owner of the dog contacted his department after photos began appearing on Face book on New Years Day.  The dog had accidently escaped from his house on New Years Eve without his knowledge, the owner reported. After a through Burrillville Police investigation, with interviews of family members, friends, and neighbors, no “intent of abuse,” was found, says Lt. Connors. The veterinarian’s report did not indicate or substantiate a criminal charge for abuse or neglect, he says.  As a result, no charges were filed against the animal’s owner.

With latest blast of arctic air approaching Rhode Island, weather reporters noted that yesterday was to be the coldest day of the winter.  Throughout the day temperatures plunged to near zero, with gusts of wind lowering the thermometers to 15 degrees to 25 degrees below zero.

Neglect, abuse or mistakenly believing your pet is inside the  house, like what occurred to the elderly Greyhound in Burrillville, will put animals in severe danger if they are left out in extremely frigid weather.

Keeping Your Pet Safe

There is no excuse to leave animals outside when you go to work especially when the media gives you advanced notice that temperatures are going to plunge below zero, says John Holmes, Pawtucket’s animal control supervisor.

Holmes was prepared to handle dozens of medical emergencies resulting from the frigid weather at the Pawtucket Animal Shelter. “We were staffed, had adequate supplies and equipped to treat animals,” he says.

Although he was prepared, Holmes, a 40-year City employee who oversees two animal control officers, was relieved that only one call came in as the temperatures dropped below zero.  He attributes the lack of calls by the warning of media not to leave pets unattended outside.  “People seem to be paying attention,” he says.

Common sense will tell you when you should not leave your pet outside, says Holmes.  “Put on a warm coat.  Wear heavily gloves and a hat.  If you are cold, it is the same for your pet,” notes Holmes, stressing that people easily think that animals are not cold in frigid weather because of their thick coats of fur.

“This is just not true,” says Holmes.

Frigid Weather and Hypothermia

According to Holmes, frigid weather can result in hypothermia, when an animal’s body is no longer able to maintain normal temperature.  Severe hypothermia can result in coma and ultimately death.  Smaller breeds, very young animals, and older pets are more susceptible to rapid surface loss of body heat, putting them at a higher risk to get hypothermia.

Holmes notes that the symptoms of hypothermia depend on the severity.  These can include shivering, a slow shallow breathing, and weakness in mild cases. Muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, a blank stare, slow and shallow breathing are symptoms in the moderate state and fixed and dilated pupils, a heartbeat that’s hard to find, difficulty in breathing or coma are seen in severe cases of hypothermia.

If hypothermia occurs, Holmes recommends that the animal be wrapped in a warm blanket and quickly transported to a veterinary emergency clinic where treatment can be provided.

It is easy to protecting your pets from the cold weather, adds Holmes. Don’t take elderly, young or sick pets, especially small short haired breeds outdoors unprotected in below zero weather, for long periods of time. Just let them go out in the back yard for a few minutes if necessary. “A short walk around the block won’t hurt your animal,” he says.

Holmes asks that all concerned neighbors who notice dogs being left outside in inclement weather to call his office at the City of Pawtucket’s Animal Shelter.  We would rather be safe than sorry. . “Each and every call is taken very seriously and checked out,” he warns. After an investigation, if it is found that someone knowingly abused or neglected an animal, that person will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions

Frigid weather is hazardous to your animal’s health. With winter’s temperatures now dipping into single digits, even below zero, make sure you keep your pet safe and warm in your home.  Be responsible.

To report a complaint about alleged animal cruelty: City of Pawtucket, contact John Holmes, Animal Control Supervisor, at 401 722-4243. Or write Animal Control Division, 121 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 0286. Web site: http://www.pawtucketanimalshelter.org.  Or call 401-722-4243.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer that covers medical, aging and health care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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