The brutal cold expected to hit the St. Louis metro area is a grave concern for people and their pets. While experts say outdoor structures like a weather-proof dog house can often be enough to keep an animal protected from the elements, it will not be sufficient over the next few days.
Animal rescuers and law enforcement encourage people to bring their pets inside. Not only is it the right thing to do, but for Illinois residents, it is a legal obligation.
With temperatures dropping into the teens and single digits and wind chills falling well below zero, area animal rescue groups are warning pet owners about the risk of hypothermia and even death.
"(Pets) will not make it out alive if they are left outside the next three days," said Jamie Case, Executive Director of Gateway Pet Guardians, an organization committed to ending homelessness for animals in the Metro East.
The goal is to help struggling families so they do not feel the need to take their pets to an already overcrowded shelter, said Case. Volunteers with Gateway Pet Guardians will be out in the Metro East the next three days dropping off supplies to people who want to keep their pets but need some additional support.
"The reality though is that some families don't have heat themselves in their homes so let's help them get to a warming station, and let us help with resources to keep that animal warm for the next three days," said Case.
According to Sarah Javier, President and Executive Director of the APA Adoption Center, it is a misconception that because animals have fur they are protected from the harsh winter cold. Over the next few days, she says even pets should be bundled up.
"A jacket or some sort of coat while he does need to be outside is immensely helpful," said Javier.
She reminds pet owners not to forget their pet's paws which can become cracked and irritated this time of year due to the snow, ice, and salts on the ground. Boots may help protect paws if your pet will tolerated them, otherwise, be sure to clean them off well after each trip outside.
The APA encourages pet owners to limit outdoor time the next few days.
"It's really just too dangerous for them to be outside in this kind of weather," said Javier.
A new Illinois law allows law enforcement officers take temporary custody of a dog or cat if they believe it to be in a life-threatening situation due to "extreme cold or heat conditions." Chief James Jones with the Sauget Police Department says those situations may include an animal that is left outside during frigid temperatures like the St. Louis region is currently experiencing or if a pet is left in a car during extreme heat conditions.
An officer must attempt to make contact with the owner, but they can then seek emergency veterinary care for the animal. The owner of the animal will be responsible for any cost to care for their pet, Jones said.
The owner of the pet may be cited for the violation and could face a Class A Misdemeanor charge.
The cold weather concern is not limited to domesticated animals. Javier encourages people who warm up their vehicle to take precaution before putting the car in drive because feral and outdoor cats and other outdoor animals may seek warmth near your running car engine.
"It's a good idea as you go out there, maybe honk your horn or bang your hood a little bit so if there are any animals underneath the hood they can get out of there," she said.
Case said Gateway Pet Guardians can use monetary donations as well as crates and blankets to support their efforts this week. Donate here.
Pacific Animal Hospital has teamed up with the City of Pacific to provide free, temporary shelter to any dog or cat in need - no judgment or questions asked. Contact 636-257-2100 for more information.
To report an animal left outside in this weather, contact the following organizations or your local police department:
- Humane Society of Missouri (staffed 24/7), 314-647-4400
- St. Louis City Animal Control, 314-657-1500
- St. Louis County Animal Control, 314-615-0650 (after hours - 314-889-2341)
- Stray Rescue of St. Louis, 314-771-6121
- St. Charles County Animal Control, 636-949-7387
- St. Charles City Animal Control, 636-949-7387 (Weekdays, 636-949-3395; Nights 636-949-3396; Weekends, 636-949-3300)
- Jefferson County Animal Control, 636-797-5577
- Franklin County Animal Control, 636-583-4300
- Wentzville Animal Control, 636-327-5105
- St. Clair County Animal Services, 618-235-0585