Last week was a lousy time to be any kind of animal in these parts, but it was a particularly bad time if you were a dog with a lousy owner or no owner at all.
From Saturday through Tuesday of last week, the citys animal control department got 158 calls from residents reporting possibly distressed animals, and people delivered 32 strays caught out in the weather to the animal shelter.
Not all calls were disasters. Some were misunderstandings, in which owners had let their dogs out briefly and neighbors became concerned.
In all, though, 15 owners were given tickets and will have to go to court for neglecting animals. Of those 15, six people were allowed to take their pets inside and keep them, but nine pets were seized by animal control officers and taken to the shelter because their lives were deemed to be in immediate danger, said Peggy Bender, director of education for Animal Care & Control.
So whats immediate danger? Tied up outside with no shelter in subzero temperatures with wind chills as low as 45 below, unable to eat or drink because their food and water were frozen.
Owners of four of the dogs voluntarily gave up their dogs, but that doesnt get them off the hook.
When you give up the animal, you dont give up the ticket, Bender said. Youre still going to have to go to court and face possible fines.
So altogether the owners of 15 dogs will be going to court for neglecting their so-called pets in the middle of the worst weather wed seen in at least 20 years.
Its easy to tell when a dog is being neglected, Bender said. You walk into the backyard and its bitter cold and the dog is standing in three feet of snow and theres not a footprint in sight.
Once at animal control, some owners start getting embarrassed or humbled at the thought theyve been ticketed for neglecting an animal. Its like the light bulb just never turned on, Bender said.
They make excuses, she said. They didnt get around to it. They couldnt get home. Did it occur to you to call us? We do this all the time, she said about rescuing animals when their owners are caught somewhere else.
People need to stop and think, Bender said. You cant ignore your responsibility and risk the life of this animal and let it suffer.
People look at wildlife, like deer, and figure if they can stay outside, so can their dogs, Bender said.
Not in 45-below wind chill, Bender said. It doesnt matter if theyre a husky or a malamute. Theyre domesticated animals. They can still get frostbite. Their testicles can freeze.
All in all, though, even animals in the worst of conditions made it through OK because people bothered to report conditions theyd seen.
We had 15 potential animal deaths had not someone taken the time to call, Bender said. But people did call, so what were left with is 15 living dogs and owners bad enough to get tickets.
Maybe some people just need to realize, if they dont care enough about a dog to take care of it, then they shouldnt have it.