Legally Brief: Animals Freezing to Death Outdoors in the Polar Vortex

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on January 16, 2014

With record-breaking chills, the “polar vortex” has meant dogs left outdoors have been subjected to brutal cold. Some areas, like North Dakota and Minnesota, have recorded temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero. In Chicago, a polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo had to be brought indoors. Sadly, dogs have been freezing to death outdoors, from New York to Marion County, Tennessee—where one poor dog even tried to chew his way out of his wire cage. Criminal charges have been filed in the New York Flat Creek Border Collies case under New York Agriculture and Markets Law 353-b (2) and dogs at this facility have either been removed or moved indoors. Meanwhile, state bills are being introduced in response to this case, which would mandate stiffer penalties for failure to provide adequate shelter.

In the past week, an ALDF investigation has revealed some of the worst commercial animal breeders in Nebraska and New Jersey. Last fall, ALDF called out the scariest houses of animal houses of horror in Missouri and in Minnesota, and we are following up with more facilities soon. Public scrutiny and law enforcement are our best tools, and that is why we are exposing such neglect and the failure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to act on the findings of its own inspections.

What the Law Says

State laws differ dramatically when it comes to standards of care for animals. Some don’t include “shelter” as basic care, and others exempt some animals from protection. New York state law, for example, prohibits animal neglect but does not specifically include “shelter” in its cruelty statute.

Although state laws differ in minimum standards of protection for animals, one thing is clear: it should be illegal to let animals freeze to death. And states like New Jersey and New York, which have seen natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, should know better. That is why it is so important to hold bad actors—like law-breaking breeders, shelters, zoos, and individuals—accountable to the law.

What You Can Do

ALDF has received many letters and phone calls from outraged citizens concerned about freezing animals in their area. While prosecution of these offenders is generally left to the discretion of the USDA or local law enforcement and prosecutors, ALDF provides direct support and training to law enforcement and prosecutors in the handling of such cases, including financing forensic investigations, locating and funding essential expert witnesses, doing research and writing briefs, and even making appearances on behalf of prosecutors in court. These services—and your voice and support—are often the primary factor in whether a case is prosecuted at all.

Safety tips: the best way to keep companion animals from freezing to death is to bring them indoors, where it is warm.

  • Don’t leave companion animals outdoors when the weather drops.
  • Wipe the paws of your furry companion—salt that melts snow can be a serious irritant for them.
  • Antifreeze is both deadly and delicious—its sweet taste attracts animals and will kill them.
  • Keep an eye on parked cars—animals may crawl under the hood to find warmth.
  • Plastic—rather than metal—water bowls can prevent an animal’s tongue sticking to the bowl. Remember: animals cannot drink frozen water; cold water lowers body temperature rapidly.
  • Shivering, weak pulse, dilated pupils, stupor, and unconsciousness are signs of hypothermia. If an animal exhibits these symptoms please contact a veterinarian right away!

Resources: Check out ALDF’s compendium of Animal Protection Laws in the U.S. and Canada to see where your state falls on laws regarding animal neglect and abuse.


9 thoughts on “Legally Brief: Animals Freezing to Death Outdoors in the Polar Vortex

  1. J Soto says:

    Absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking. I balled my eyes out when I read the stories. We need more education from animal control, humane societies, breeders and stores who sell dogs. People need to be educated and held accountable if they abuse.

  2. Shell says:

    Why on earth do some folks even have “companion” animals if they refuse to take care of them properly, to love them,to treat them as one of the family?? To leave a pet outside, alone and lonely is horrible enough!!…during these frigid temperatures…it’s inconceivable !!!!!
    …..A few choice words for the so-callled. greed driven breeders…#@%¥&§!!!!!!!!!

    1. Lucy Muller says:

      I,agree with you. I hate people who do that and wish there could be laws against it just as if you put a child outside in th cold.

      1. Amy says:

        I completely agree! Those who impose cruelty to animals should be given the most severe penalties and in the event that a poor defenseless animal dies due to neglect or just mere incompetence of leaving a dog to freeze to death, inflicting pain, torture, and a severely long, painful, suffering to their death, should without a doubt receive the death penalty or a strict life sentence!

  3. Judy Budge says:

    So very inhumane! These people should not have animals and should be punished for cruelty!

  4. J.Miller says:

    I was hoping to see some tips about what someone can do when coming across dogs tied out in the cold. How about some suggestions about that? Unfortunately I don’t think the people that neglect their pets will read this article so I would think it would be more helpful to tell the public what they can do for these neglected dogs and other animals.

  5. Now is the time for a law that prosecutes puppy mill owners and buyers of puppies from puppy mills. It is now time for a law prohibiting the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores which would cut the puppy mill operation by well over half. NOW is the time. NO MORE ANIMAL ABUSE!!!!Neglect is abuse.

  6. Michele Pederson says:

    Please help these innocent animals.