The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some states are making it a serious crime to leave your pets out in the cold

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“Arctic blasts” are bursting back into the headlines. Temperatures are dropping below freezing in the Northeast and below zero in the Upper Midwest. Winter is almost here, and our pets are just as affected by the weather as we are.

All 50 states have felony animal cruelty laws, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. What they may not have, though, is a provision that defines leaving your pet out in the cold as “cruelty.” But it’s something more states are passing.

Pennsylvania became the latest to pass such a measure. According to data provided by the ASPCA, it joins other states that have specific weather-related statutes, although the laws are different in each state: Nevada, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, along with other local municipalities.

The Pennsylvania law was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf and a dog named Libre, who was rescued from a cruel situation in 2016.

“The Democratic governor used a pen and ink,” wrote in June when the bill was passed. “As for Libre, a paw was dipped in paint so he could put his stamp on a copy of the bill.”

In addition to making it a felony crime in Pennsylvania to leave your furry friend stranded in inclement weather, the law states that the affected animal must be forfeited to a shelter.

These laws can apply to cold or hot weather. More and more states are passing laws making it illegal to leave your pet in a hot car during the summer months. Twenty-two states have hot-car laws, and bills are pending in other states, although the actual specifics of the measures vary widely.

In Wisconsin, Florida and Tennessee, for example, the crime is a felony, and the law gives immunity to anyone — law enforcement or passerby — who breaks into the car to get the animal out.

In New Jersey and West Virginia, though, it’s illegal to leave animals in a hot car, but no one — not even a police officer — is given immunity to break into the car to free the animal.

Now that the cold months are upon us, here is some advice from the ASPCA on how you can keep your pets comfortable in the cold. After all, some of them weren’t built for this kind of weather.

  • Towel-dry your pet’s paws after it comes in from the snow, and remove any snowballs from its fur.
  • Don’t shave your dog in the winter — let it grow out its long coat to keep it warm.
  • If your dog has short fur and obviously did not evolve for wintry weather, consider a coat or a sweater vest to provide an extra later of “fur.”
  • Ice, salt and chemicals from the ground will get stuck in your pet’s feet and fur; wash its paws when it comes in to remove these potential hazards.
  • Use pet-friendly ice melts on your sidewalks and driveways — even if you don’t have pets.
  • Giving your pet plenty of fresh water will prevent its skin from flaking and itching in the dry weather.
  • Car coolant and anti-freeze are lethal to animals, so clean up any spills or leaks immediately.

Note: Some language was changed in this story after publishing to account for the wide spectrum of weather-related animal cruelty statutes.