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If you love your dog, share your warmth
Dear Dr. Spiegel, As a pet owner, I am getting very upset this time of year by people who leave their dogs chained outside for long periods of time. Recently, there was a female dog in my neighborhood who was chained outside for 5 straight days, despite 40 degree temperatures at night. Mine is not a question, so much as a request. Would you please remind people about the dangers of leaving a pet outdoors for such long periods. G.L., Wilmington
Dear G.L., Your concern is well taken. Although we have had an extraordinarily mild winter thus far, prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can lead to hypothermia and frostbite. While some breeds are especially well suited to harsh winter climates, most do not have the thick, warm coats of the northern breeds (Huskies, Samoyeds, Malamutes, etc.). Even for these heavy furred animals, prolonged periods out on a chain is a highly undesirable existence. Activity and affiliation are essential elements for a normal, healthy life out in the cold of winter. Hunting, exploring, and play generate heat for cold weather animals and sleep in dens or burrows close to other family members serve to maintain body temperatures. Isolation, devoid of protective shelters, with no activities to engage in predispose animals to the harsh effects of winter climates. These animals are also more prone to develop stereotypic behaviors. Things like self-mutilation (excessive grooming/biting of one's body parts), pacing, excessive barking, and aggressiveness can all result from frustration due to confinement and an unfulfilled need to engage in normal species-typical behaviors. For most pet-owning families, the primary question regarding housing is whether the dog should be allowed to sleep on the bed! The contrast of these situations serves to illustrate the barbarity of keeping dogs chained out all the time. I, personally, don't understand the point of having a dog if it is going to be kept like this. It is fine in the case of some working dogs, where it is beneficial to maintain a working relationship; but this is seldom the case for most dogs that are chained out. The real question is why are they out there to begin with. There are several possible answers. One is simply neglect. A lack of proper care for the health and well being of animals often stems from poor education. Children and adults need to be made aware that animals are sentient beings, just as we are. They feel pain and hunger, thirst and anger, anxiety and depression, confusion, excitement, contentment and joy just as we do. An appreciation for the shared feelings of coldness, boredom, and the frustration of an inability to escape a miserable situation are essential for the compassion that will bring them inside. Often dogs are put out because they have not seemed able to adapt to living within a home. Problems of housebreaking, destructiveness, and hyperactivity frequently drive owners to banish dogs from the house. Unaware of alternative solutions to problems, they opt for the obvious and simply remove the animal from the house. If the whim of owning a pet fades, neglect and abuse are not options. It is a mark of cruelty. If you believe an animal is being treated harshly or neglected, contact the S.P.C.A. (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). That's what they're there for!
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I am a concerned grandmother. The reason is my granddaughter was given a newborn kitten. Being that their bathroom is being remodeled, she has the litterbox and the kitten sleeping in her bedroom. First of all, I don't think she should breathe the cat litter, let alone the kitten's mess. It's not healthy. What would you suggest? The kitten even sleeps on her chest, and she doesn't move all night so she won't disturb it. Help! Mrs. E.R. Wilmington
Dear Mrs. E.R., As long as the kitten has been effectively treated for worms (parasites) and has received a clean bill of health by a veterinarian, you needn't worry. Scoop out the litter box daily, change it completely every week and allow her to sleep with the kitten if she likes. This is a behavior that most cat owners engage in. It will strengthen the bond between your granddaughter and her kitten, and help to foster a lifelong compassion and love within her for all animals.