For September 18, 2019
In the past, I have shared this story and I do so again because it continues to be relevant.
Years ago when I was in my late teens, I still lived with my parents. We lived in a nice family-friendly, quiet neighborhood. One day, however, as I was taking our dog for a walk, I noticed that a new family had moved in around the corner. I was horrified to see that they had three big dogs that were chained in the yard; the only shelter provided was rusty barrels. It was late fall, and I worried and prayed non-stop about those dogs.
I simply could not stand another minute of worrying about those dogs being so cold when the weather forecast predicted freezing temperatures. I went to Murphy’s in Ballou Park and bought several bath towels. A couple of years before, my parents had given me a fluffy yellow bathrobe. I loved that robe; it was warm and soft and everything a bathrobe should be. I decided the dogs needed that fluffy robe more than I did, so I put it in the pile with the towels and walked around the corner to where the dogs were chained.
A woman answered the door when I knocked. I told her that I was concerned about the dogs being cold, so I would like her to put the towels and the robe in their barrels. She looked at me like I had lost my mind, but took the large pile from me. She closed the door, and I went back home.
The next day, I walked back by the house and did not see any towels or yellow robe in the barrels. All I saw were chained dogs huddled by the barrels. The temperature had dipped overnight and it was freezing. I knocked on the door again, and when the woman opened the door, she was wearing my fluffy yellow robe. I told her I was disappointed, and then went back home.
A few weeks later, the dogs disappeared, and I hoped they were in a better place. This happened in a day long before Facebook when the woman could have ranted about being harassed by a silly young girl, and, unfortunately, it happened years before the animal protection laws in Virginia and Danville were strengthened.
In the comprehensive animal care section of the Code now, owners of companion animals must provide adequate shelter that is specifically defined as:
"Adequate shelter" means provision of and access to shelter that is suitable for the species, age, condition, size, and type of each animal; provides adequate space for each animal; is safe and protects each animal from injury, rain, sleet, snow, hail, direct sunlight, the adverse effects of heat or cold, physical suffering, and impairment of health; is properly lighted; is properly cleaned; enables each animal to be clean and dry, except when detrimental to the species; during hot weather, is properly shaded and does not readily conduct heat; during cold weather, has a windbreak at its entrance and provides a quantity of bedding material consisting of straw, cedar shavings, or the equivalent that is sufficient to protect the animal from cold and promote the retention of body heat; and, for dogs and cats, provides a solid surface, resting platform, pad, floormat, or similar device that is large enough for the animal to lie on in a normal manner and can be maintained in a sanitary manner. Under this chapter, shelters whose wire, grid, or slat floors (i) permit the animals' feet to pass through the openings, (ii) sag under the animals' weight, or (iii) otherwise do not protect the animals' feet or toes from injury are not adequate shelter.
Clearly, rusty barrels would no longer be considered adequate shelter, thank goodness! In fact, although some localities consider plastic barrels to be adequate shelter, most localities do not and the Attorney General’s office sent an alert to animal control officers, indicating they are not to be considered adequate shelter. They provide no warmth, no protection from the elements, and no solid surface. Doghouses that do not have floors also do not meet the legal standards of care.
As pet owners prepare their outside companion animals (and cats are not excluded) for cold weather, we strongly urge them to consider examine the shelter provided and determine if it meets the legal requirements.
It is the least they can do for the outside companion animals.