Laws Protect Pets in Severe Weather

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How cold is too cold for a dog to be outside?. IvanWoW/Shutterstock

When it's incredibly cold or incredibly hot, most humans don't want to spend a lot of time outside. Now there's an increasing amount of legislation that aims to make sure pet owners follow the same logic when temperatures are extreme.

Most recently, a law passed in June 2017 in Pennsylvania included new animal cruelty protections for pets in cold weather. Those changes go into effect now that winter weather is on the way. Act 10 says that dogs can't be tethered outside for more than 30 minutes when temperatures are above 90 or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

The added protections are part of a package that requires improved conditions for tethered, outdoor dogs. They must have water and shade and a clean shelter that allows them to stay dry and maintain their normal body temperature all year.

“For far too long we have heard stories of neglected and abused animals who suffered because of deplorable treatment, and with our new landmark anti-cruelty legislation in place, penalties will be enforced for individuals who abuse or neglect an animal," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who championed the legislation.

Penalties range from $50 to $750 and up to 90 days in jail for a summary offense. Dog owners could face up to seven years in jail and/or a $15,000 fine for a third-degree felony on aggravated cruelty charges.

“The Humane Society of the United States, Pennsylvania Vet Medical Association, and a number of state and federal agencies strongly support the anti-tethering components of Act 10, which include long overdue, reasonable stipulations regarding the length of time and conditions in which a dog can be kept outside during inclement weather,” said Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

“Continuous tethering can cause severe physical damages such as cracked and bleeding paws, frostbite and hypothermia. We encourage the public to help to keep the dogs of Pennsylvania safe and warm this winter by reporting animal neglect to the local humane society police officer, local or state police. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.”

Other places bring pets inside

dog tethered outside in the snow
Several recent laws limit the amount of time a dog can be tethered when temps are extreme. Sergiy Akhundov/Shutterstock

Other municipalities have also enacted legislation to keep animals safe when temps drop or skyrocket.

There are hundreds of ordinances to protect dogs that live outdoors and many of them address extreme weather, says Ashley Mauceri, law enforcement outreach director for the Humane Society of the United States.

"Tethering ordinances have become increasingly popular because we all agree that chronic chaining laws are inhumane. Many municipalities have addressed it in some way or are starting to address it," Mauceri tells MNN.

When adding legislation about tethering in extreme weather, some spell out specific temperatures or forbid it when there is a weather watch or warning.

"It's becoming an increasingly relevant topic to address," Mauceri says. "More and more areas are taking this issue on."

For example, a state law adopted December 2016 in New Jersey makes it illegal to leave pets without shelter outdoors when temperatures fall below freezing or reach 90 degrees.

Under the new legislation, pet owners can face fines of $100 to $200 if they are found leaving their animals in extreme weather for more than 30 minutes at a time. The bill was introduced after a series of reports of dogs freezing to death tied up outside in the cold.

"You would hope that pet owners would treat their animals with decency and provide them with a safe and healthy home environment, but sadly, that isn't always the case," said state Sen. Jim Holzapfel, one of the bill's sponsors. "We must protect these animals and show that this kind of treatment will not be tolerated."

Dog owners in Marion County, Indiana (the Indianapolis area) can face a fine or even lose their pets if caught leaving their dogs outside in extreme weather. A revised city ordinance states that dogs can't be left alone outdoors if temperatures drop below 20 degrees or climb above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition, they can't be left alone outside during a heat advisory, wind chill warning or tornado warning. According to the ordinance, during these conditions, dogs can be outdoors as long as they are "in visual range of a competent adult who is outside with the dog."

For a first offense, a dog owner will be fined at least $25. For any offenses after that, the fine is at least $200 and the court can decided whether to take the dog away.

In neighboring Illinois, the Humane Care for Animals Act makes it illegal for owners to "expose the dog or cat in a manner that places the dog or cat in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time in extreme heat or cold conditions that results in injury to or death of the animal."

To check the anti-cruelty ordinances in your state, visit Michigan State University's Animal Legal and Historical Center.