The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Harwood Heights Trustees Approved Revisions to an Existing Animal Cruelty Ordinance that Make it Illegal to Confine an Animal without Access to Shelter

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Harwood Heights Trustees Approved Revisions to an Existing Animal Cruelty Ordinance that Make it Illegal to Confine an Animal without Access to Shelter

Temperatures in the Chicago area have plunged below freezing, and with months of winter still ahead, officials in Harwood Heights have taken new steps to protect animals from extremely cold weather.

Harwood Heights trustees, at the Dec. 8 village board meeting, approved revisions to an existing animal cruelty ordinance that make it illegal to confine an animal in a way that denies it access to shelter. The revised ordinance makes it an act of cruelty to improperly care for animals by not protecting them from the weather. It also adds to the definition of "abuse and neglect" by including animal owners who leave pets exposed to prolonged periods of unsheltered exposure to extreme cold or heat.

The village already had an ordinance in the books to address the treatment of animals, but Trustee Therese Schuepfer said it lacked clear definitions of several important terms when determining the state of animal care.

"The amendment added new definitions to reduce any ambiguity," Schuepfer said. "There were not precipitating events that prompted this change, rather the amendment of this ordinance is a reflection of our ongoing attempt to provide clear statements of village ordinances."

In Harwood Heights, the updated anti-cruelty ordinance gives the village more authority to enforce measures to protect pets. Pet owners who get caught leaving what the village defines as a "companion animal" — a cat, dog or horse — outside in the cold, for a period of time long enough to cause the animal to suffer, could face penalties, including fines and losing custody of their pet.

Police officers, under the updated ordinance, can now enter private property to investigate complaints of animal cruelty. If a pet owner refuses entry, authorities can get a search warrant to enter, according to the ordinance. Mistreated animals can be confiscated by the village, and pet owners who violate the animal cruelty law can face a fine of between $500 and $5,000 for each violation. The fines would be decided by an administrative hearing officer.

The action was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

Determining a pet's threshold for cold weather is simple, according to Dr. Robyn Barbiers, president of the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. She said if it's too cold for a human, then it's too cold for an animal. Different dog breeds are able to handle cold weather better than others, such as a husky, which is protected by the winter chill by its dense fur designed for cold climates, Barbiers said. But many dogs with thinner hair, like pit bulls and greyhounds, for example, get cold faster.

"What many people sometimes don't realize is that pets get frostbite on their extremities like ears and feet, just like humans," Barbiers said.

Frostbite, in part caused by the cold slowing a pet's blood flow, is just one of the dangers cold conditions pose to pets. Road salt and ice can become lodged in the paws of cats and dogs, causing discomfort and sometimes cuts if the ice is sharp enough, according to Barbiers.

She said cats need protection from the cold, too. Barbiers advises people to call their local animal control if they see a cat roaming outdoors in the cold and to try to contain the animal in a garage or porch until help arrives.

"If it's a free-roaming cat, it has to be picked up," Barbiers said. "A lot of stray cats can be adopted, or if they're feral, they can be placed into colonies."

She said extremely cold conditions, which the Chicago area has been experiencing in December, can be especially dangerous for dogs, cats and other animals whose owners leave them in a yard with no shelter from the wind and snow.

"Unfortunately, some pet owners view animals as property and not as part of the family," Barbiers said. "Any pets left outside need adequate shelter, and that doesn't mean a simple wooden dog house, but one with proper bedding that's raised off the ground and protects from the wind and wet weather."

Other tips on helping pets survive the winter offered by Barbiers include honking the horn of a car before starting the engine (a small animal could have crawled inside for warmth) and cleaning up any antifreeze spills to protect pets and wildlife from poisoning.

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