What to do if you see a dog or cat left out in the cold this winter

One of the most common forms of animal cruelty, according to The Humane Society, occurs in the winter when pets are left outside in the cold. Having a natural fur coat is not enough to protect cats and dogs from cold-weather conditions, according to The Humane Society, and without food and shelter, pets are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and even death.

So, if you notice that an animal has been left outside in harsh conditions, what can you do to be an advocate?

The Humane Society recommends documenting the incident with as much detail as possible and reporting it to your local animal control agency or sheriff’s department. (More on that below.)


First, What to Know About Animal Cruelty Laws

All states have animal cruelty laws. (Here, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks the best and worst states for animal protection laws).

But some states go further to specifically define leaving a pet in freezing temperatures as constituting cruelty.

While laws differ depending on the state, Nevada, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are among those that have specific weather-related statutes to protect animals, according to The Washington Post.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund also noted cruelty can be elevated to a felony status in some states, including Illinois, Oregon, Colorado, Maine and Rhode Island.

If you live in an area prone to winter storms and cold weather, it’s possible that animal control divisions will patrol the county to look for animals left out in the cold and respond to reports.


What To Do If You Notice A Pet Left Out In The Cold

If you notice a pet has been left outside in the cold, here are the exact steps you should take, according to The Humane Society:

  • Report what you see. The more details, the better. Take note of the date, time, exact location and the type of animal or animals involved. Write down details about the situation. Video and photographic documentation of the animal, the location, and the surrounding area — even a cell phone photo — will help bolster the case.
  • Contact your local animal control agency or county sheriff’s office to make a complaint. Have your evidence ready to give to them. Take detailed notes regarding whom you speak with and when. The Humane Society recommends following up in a few days if you notice the situation has not been remedied.
  • If you need advice, you can also contact The Humane Society directly. While the organization isn’t a law enforcement agency, the staff can help provide expert counsel.
  • Also, the Animal Legal Defense Fund recommends that if you witness animal cruelty, tell authorities that you are willing to testify in court, including at trial. That way, investigators will know they have a credible and cooperative witness as they build a case.