Actions taken by Warren Animal Control officers responding to animal welfare complaints can range from a request to bring a pet indoors, to tickets, misdemeanor violations and felony charges.

Actions taken by Warren Animal Control officers responding to animal welfare complaints can range from a request to bring a pet indoors, to tickets, misdemeanor violations and felony charges.

Photos by Brian Louwers


Cold temps pose extreme risk for pets, ‘community cats’

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 30, 2019

 The Warren Animal Welfare Commission recently approved $500 for supplies to build emergency shelters for “community cats.”

The Warren Animal Welfare Commission recently approved $500 for supplies to build emergency shelters for “community cats.”

 Taylor said two dogs found huddled on separate porches were brought to the station by police patrol officers the night before temperatures were expected to plunge below zero.

Taylor said two dogs found huddled on separate porches were brought to the station by police patrol officers the night before temperatures were expected to plunge below zero.

 A quick field investigation by Warren Animal Control officers can reveal the general condition of the animal, whether it has food, water and adequate shelter, and whether the owner is around.

A quick field investigation by Warren Animal Control officers can reveal the general condition of the animal, whether it has food, water and adequate shelter, and whether the owner is around.

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WARREN — It was midday on Jan. 29 and the outside temperature was dropping. The wind had picked up, making the bitterly cold readings feel even worse on bare skin and exposed fur. Prolonged exposure to the weather was growing unforgiving, potentially deadly.

Calls about animals left outside were already coming in as Warren Animal Control officers worked in the basement of police headquarters to assemble makeshift emergency shelters, available for homeless cats. The plastic tubs, lined with styrofoam insulation and packed with straw, were being prepared for “community cats,” strays left at extreme risk with actual temperatures expected to plummet below zero and wind chill readings set to bottom out at historically frigid levels.


‘It’s the right thing to do if they’re out there’
“We’ve noticed that in some of the places where we know there are cats outside, they didn’t have any shelter,” Warren Animal Control officer Lisa Taylor said. “A lot of the residents caretaking the cats don’t have a lot of money.”

The plastic-tub shelters can cost less than $20 each to make, but Taylor said other design options are available. Shelters can be made of anything, from Styrofoam coolers with secured lids, stuffed with straw and suitable for an individual cat, to stacked tires that provide warmth and shelter from precipitation.

The Warren Animal Welfare Commission recently approved $500 for supplies to build the shelters. Warren Animal Control has reached out to the community on Facebook and is still looking for more resources, more volunteers, more people in need of shelters, and more people interested in making their own for the community cats living in their neighborhood.

“We do spend an uncomfortable amount of time telling people it’s OK to care about them,” Warren Animal Control officer Nicole Fear said. “You’re not in trouble with us to care about them. We don’t punish them for caring.”

As she attached the lid to another tub stuffed with straw and insulation, Taylor added, “It’s not improper. It’s the right thing to do if they’re out there.”


‘Everyone’s aware. There’s no excuse’
With two completed shelters ready for delivery, Fear got ready to head out on the road to check on a complaint about a dog left outside. She said the caller, a neighbor near Nine Mile Road and Campbell Avenue known to take care of a colony of cats, might want a shelter for her property. The temperature was in the teens already and the wind was howling.

Taylor said two dogs had already been brought in by Warren Police Department patrol officers the night before.

“These dogs were loose and they had gone to people’s front porches. The report for both dogs, different houses, they were in the same area, they were both found huddled up on someone’s front porch, looking very cold,” Taylor said.

People who fail to care for their pets in cold weather can face a variety of actions.

“Many variables there,” Taylor said. “We’re really happy that the owner’s home, and we can get them to bring the dog in so we don’t have to take it.”

Some calls are legitimate emergencies, where dogs have been left outside at extreme risk. Sometimes they get calls from a neighbor who sees an animal outside for a few minutes and becomes concerned.

“We don’t know that until we get there,” Taylor said.

A quick field investigation can reveal the general condition of the animal; whether it has food, water and adequate shelter; and whether the owner is around.

“We don’t need people to decide that for us,” Taylor said. “They can just call us.”

Action taken by Warren Animal Control can range from a request to bring an animal indoors, to a ticket and misdemeanor charges, or a more serious penalty.

“If the dog dies or is frozen, that could be considered a felony,” Fear said.

When the weather is this cold, Taylor said most dogs shouldn’t spend more than five minutes outside.

“Everyone’s aware. There’s no excuse,” Taylor said.

Across town, Fear made contact with the first caller, who declined a shelter but directed her to a dog left outside around the block. She drove around and knocked on the door.

“It’s a teenager,” Fear said. She quizzed the teen about the dog, the temperature and whether any adults were home.

“I’ll go back and actually look up who lives here and give them a ticket for dog outside, inadequate shelter,” Fear said.

She got back in her truck and drove to investigate another complaint a few blocks away, phoned in by a concerned neighbor.

A survey of the property revealed a female dog chained in the yard and a shelter that was too large to adequately sustain warmth. A fresh bale of straw was found on the porch, but it wasn’t clear if the shelter was properly insulated.

“Nobody’s home. I did try knocking,” Fear said. “I’m going to call rentals and see who lives there, if we can get a hold of someone and bring them in. And if I can’t get a hold of anyone, I’m going to remove the dog.”


More from the experts
The Animal Care Network recently issued a warning about “feels like” temperatures in the single digits in metro Detroit. The ACN advises pet owners to not take any chances and to bring their pets inside, noting that dogs and cats can suffer from frostbite in a matter of minutes and that low temperatures, winds and precipitation can lead to illness, hypothermia and death.

Jeff Randazzo, chief of Macomb County Animal Control, which covers the city of Center Line, said dogs lose heat through the pads of their feet and by panting in cold weather, so if an owner is outside shoveling snow for a long period of time, the dog shouldn’t be outside that entire time.

Also, pet owners should note that snow is not sufficient to hydrate animals. Pets need access to clean, fresh, unfrozen water.

Feral cats also need proper shelter and protection from the elements. Cats that live outside can freeze, get lost, be injured, or climb into the bottom of warm cars for warmth. In addition, salt and other chemicals can irritate the pads of an animal’s feet — another reason to keep them inside during the wintertime.

Randazzo said outdoor and feral cats aren’t isolated to one backyard like a dog would be and will freely roam to seek shelter from the bitter cold. But if there is a feral cat colony living nearby, he said it’s important to take precautions before starting up a vehicle that is being stored outside. He suggested striking the hood of a vehicle before starting it.

It’s also important to know the symptoms and signs of hypothermia. The main symptom is excessive shivering, which dogs do in order to produce body heat. If the dog continues to shiver, then its body temperature may be too low. A dog with hypothermia will have shallow, slow breathing.

Other signs include a low heart rate, as well as clumsiness and a loss of coordination due to muscle stiffness. The dog’s eyes may become dilated and fixed, and its gums may turn pale or blue in color. Dogs with hypothermia may even collapse or enter a coma in extreme cases.

Moderate to severe hypothermia kicks in when the dog’s temperature falls below 95 degrees. Immediate treatment is crucial. One should keep the animal alive by warming — but be gradual.

Wind chill and dampness are important elements to consider when letting a dog outside. If a dog’s coat gets wet from blowing snow, it will get more chilled. Some owners like to put a sweater on their canine companion, but if the sweater gets damp, make sure to thoroughly dry it before putting it on the dog again. Owners can also opt to add a waterproof layer for their pet for added protection.  

Marie Skladd, president of the Michigan Animal Adoption Network, said that pet owners should not take risks with cold weather.

“When the temps fall dramatically, even healthy-weight animals are at risk,” Skladd said. “Neighbors need to keep an eye out for animals living with little or no provisions and report it to animal control.”

To inquire about the welfare of an animal in your Warren neighborhood or to learn more about emergency cat shelters, including volunteering time or resources, call Warren Animal Control at (586) 574-4806. Follow the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CityofWarrenAnimalControl.

Center Line residents can reach Macomb County Animal Control at (586) 469-5115. In the event of an emergency, they can reach the Center Line Public Safety Department at (586) 757-2200.

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