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2017-12-07 / Voices

Dogs Get Cold Too – Even Those With Fur From The Rez

BY JIM KENT
FREELANCE WRITER & RADIO PRODUCER

It’s getting cold across the Northern Plains – have you noticed?

Even here in Hot Springs – the “banana belt” of the Black Hills, those 70-degree days are just a fond memory.

And though sunshine and warmth are still in the forecast between now and year’s end, my trusty L.L. Bean “Weather Station” (the best Christmas gift I’ve gotten in years) showed 21 degrees at 3 this afternoon – or, well before sunset.

Right now, it’s 16. Or… too cold for my dog, Kylie, to be outside for an extended period, as far as I’m concerned. She may not think so – because she’s a tough little husky-mix from Pine Ridge with lots of fur who’d stay out in this frigid weather til she became a popsicle.

But since even the most intelligent dogs (among which huskies rank high) only have the smarts of a 2-year old child, she’s not making that decision…no matter how much that skunk, raccoon, rabbit or deer herd is annoying her into bark mode.

One of my greatest concerns for any dog is that it be safe and warm during the winter.

I’ve never understood those who take ownership of a dog only to leave them outside in all kinds of weather.

For me there are few sights worse than that of a canine, literally, freezing outside a warm home: shivering, frost on its face, while its “master” sits cozy inside.

My mindset is that once you take ownership of an animal, especially a dog, it’s now part of your family. You train it. You feed it. You care for it. You keep it cool in summer, warm in winter and safe at all times. And it does not live outside. Though it may be there for a major portion of the day, at night it’s inside with me. With the family.

That’s my belief, but it’s shared by many veterinarians and animal shelters.

Although statistics are only available for cats right now – a 2-year lifespan living outside versus more than 10 inside, recent research points toward the reality that dogs who live inside the home also stay with us longer than those that live outside. The constant stress of exposure to the elements, regardless of the type of shelter provided, can wear a dog down long before its time. Outside dogs are also more prone to developing health issues.

This seems obvious to me and, apparently, to the state of Pennsylvania which recently passed legislation making it illegal to leave a dog outside in extreme weather conditions.

“Libre’s Law” states that dogs can’t be kept outside for more than 30 minutes if the weather is below 32 degrees - or if the weather is above 90 degrees. Anyone in violation faces a fine and a potential jail sentence of 6 to 12 months.

Extreme, you say? The animal rescue workers who found a puppy living under horrific outdoor conditions in Lancaster County, Pa. don’t think so. His successful battle for survival sparked the push for the law that bears his name; a piece of legislation the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association called “an incredible victory for animals.”

Yes, I realize out here “in God’s country” – both off the rez and on – the general mindset among many for generations has been “dogs live outside the home”. But it’s a mindset that dates back to a time when people, themselves, spent much more time outdoors in all kinds of weather and generally lived in much less comfortable conditions than they do now. No, not everyone has a model home. But if you have a roof over your head you’re doing better than your ancestors who frequently lived “under the stars”.

If you must keep your pet outside, please make sure it has a shelter where it can escape some of the brutal weather the Northern Plains offers… preferably one that’s lifted off the cold ground. Give it plenty of warm blankets and a flap cover for the entrance, if possible.

For those with a few dollars to spend - and they don’t cost much, heated bowls and sleeping pads are also available; most at any Wal Mart.,

In the end, the simplest solution is to bring your dog inside when it’s excessively cold.

The fact is that dogs are highly social animals. Their ancestors and cousins, the wolf, live in packs, hunt together, play together and sleep together.

The moment you brought your dog into your world, you became “Alpha” – its pack leader. That means “you” have complete responsibility for its welfare.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at kentvfte@gwtc.net.

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