OPINION: Paws for Frosty


After hearing countless versions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” during this Christmas season, I couldn’t help but think of the poor four-footed friends left out in the cold. As a rule, if you feel chilly, so does your pet. Most dogs and cats cannot tolerate lower than 45 degrees for an extended period. Pets left outside can experience hypothermia, frostbite and even death, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

While Huskies may happily linger in the snow and ice, a Jack Russell may shiver at 50 degrees, Indoor pets miss the signal to grow thick winter hair and may appreciate a warm sweater for that outdoor walk. Short hair and short legs both result in a cold dog. Small breeds with tummies close to the snow can rapidly turn from Toto dogs into Terrier-cicles.

Feral cats may rebuff your offer of garage space, but will still seek out warm places, like your car engine. To prevent a tragedy, a couple of raps on the hood before you open the door should scare the cat into deserting the engine. Leaving your dog in the car on a cold day can be as deadly as a hot day as the cold can get trapped inside, creating a refrigerator effect.

Be sure to clean your cat’s or dog’s paws and bellies when you come in from playing in the snow. Rock salt can cling to hair and toes. When pets lick these irritants off, they can harm the throat and stomach, sometimes requiring emergency veterinary treatment.

If you are putting on a jacket, your dog or cat needs extra treats and food. Cold weather burns more calories and a little extra bacon or tuna can make life more comfortable for furry family members.

Watch for the signs of hypothermia: if your pet is whining, shivering, appears anxious or weak, slows down or stops moving, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, take action to get them inside and slowly warmed up, advises AMVA.. Frostbite may not show up for days, after it is too late to treat. Seek immediate veterinary care.

It is a hard-cold reality that warmer temperatures are around the corner in Alabama. In our state, heat causes more doggie deaths than cold.

Many of the adorable puppies received this Christmas, and from Christmases long ago, will be placed in cars for trips around town with their owners during our warmer months.  It is hard to look at surrounding lanes of traffic and not see a dog “driving”, in the driver’s lap, or hanging out the window in Alabama.  I know because our lab, Sue, loves to ride to the farm in the back of the Suburban, but if we aren’t in the car neither is she, unless the rear doors are open. 

We know our pets love the adventure and are happy to be along for the ride or ride shotgun, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking they want to go to the mall or grocery store and sit in the car waiting on us! Nope, they’d rather be safe at home taking a nap or doing their thing.  I mean, who hasn’t had a quick 5-minute trip in the grocery store turn into 20 minutes?  All the while that backseat ‘bed’ can become an oven very quickly with no windows down – or with a window “cracked.”  Studies show the temperature can rise 30 degrees in only 20 minutes.  Heatkills.org reports that “at 70 degrees on a sunny day, after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 104 degrees. After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees.”  The joyride is over, and a heat stroke can occur or death.

AMVA reports that hundreds of dogs die every year from heat exhaustion.  YouTube videos show how quickly temperatures rise in a car.  And, it doesn’t just happen in summer – spring is around the corner and our pleasant 70s temperatures can become deadly hot in a parked car. 

It is time for Alabama’s lawmakers to join 27 other states and pass protections for our fur family members that will protect our pets and those Good Samaritans who would rescue a pet from a hot car. When they return to Montgomery in 2 weeks, for a predicted short legislative session, I urge them to pass Pet-in-Hot Car Bill, HR 524, which did not pass in 2017. That law would provide good Samaritan civil immunity from personal or property injury claims if a window is broken to protect a pet in dangerous conditions.  This is one step forward to help Alabama out of the bottom tier of states with much needed animal cruelty laws. 

Remember, your dog cannot sweat and he’s wearing a fur coat.  Paws and think about ‘is it really a good idea for Molly or Max’ to go on this ride?  Call your local legislators and express your support, or leave a comment with your pet’s names and your county and I’ll be sure to forward it.

Alice Martin is the former United States attorney for northern Alabama (2001-2009) and former chief deputy attorney general for Alabama (2015-2017).  She is running for Alabama attorney general. alice@alicemartin.com

Image courtesy of pixabay.