The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

January 24, 2013

Local animal owners battle bitter freeze

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Coping with cold could be second nature for some larger domestic animals, which grow winter coats and seek shelter from the wind.

But some smaller pets, such as dogs, may need extra protection when the temperature drops and winds rise, officials said. Animals — and the humans who care for them — will be dealing with bitter temperatures in the forecast for today and into the weekend.

The National Weather Service in Binghamton issued a wind chill advisory from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. today for the area. A polar air mass blamed for multiple deaths in the Midwest moved into the Northeast on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Locally, today’s high temperatures will be near 10 degrees, the NWS said, with northwest winds gusting up to 30 mph, creating a wind chill effect as low as minus 16 degrees. With lows projected tonight at about minus 5 degrees, the wind chill effect is forecast tonight as low as minus 19 degrees.

Dairy and beef cattle have "genuine cowhide coats" that buffer them from weather, Paul Cerosaletti, educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County, said Wednesday, quoting his college professor.

Most dairy cows locally are housed in barns, Cerosaletti said, and cold temperatures, instead of threatening the health of animals, are more likely to pose logistical challenges for dairy farmers. Feeding equipment, including water sources, may freeze or break, he said, and tractors also can be affected when temperatures drop.

"The cold weather, surprisingly enough, is not so much of an issue for the cattle," Cerosaletti said. "Calves are more affected by the cold."

For winter-weather protection, calves are fed more, housed in barns or hutches and provided plenty of bedding, Cerosaletti said. And they can wear calf coats or jackets to help stay warm.

Beef cattle, which are raised outside year-round, can take the cold temperatures outside "pretty well,’’ with extra feed for energy and a shelter to protect them from the wind, he said.

For dairy cows, Cerosaletti said, the fluctuation of temperatures is a greater issue than the cold because the changes can lead to stress and illnesses, such as respiratory diseases. To protect cows, farmers will monitor the barn environment to provide good ventilation, he said.

Dairy farmer David Galley of Garrattsville said his cows are in a barn year-round, and calves stay warm in deep piles of straw bedding in hutches. Feed is kept in a bunker silo, he said, and freezing equipment is a winter-weather concern at the farm that has about 170 head.

"We’ve got a stanchion barn that cows are in all the time,’’ Galley said. "I’m the one who has to go in the cold and feed them.’’

At the Delaware Valley Humane Society in Sidney, dogs are given extra bedding to reduce drafts on the cold floor, kennel worker Dorothy Crawford said, and the shelter is in constant need of extra blankets for bedding. 

The shelter has about 20 dogs, Crawford said, and they have mixed reactions to the cold.

"The smaller dogs don’t like it,’’ she said. "Others would rather be out in it.’’

However, in bitter cold temperatures, exercise times are shortened, she said, especially for small, short-haired dogs. Some dogs wear coats to stay warm and need other protections in winter.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued tips for keeping dogs safe in the winter. Dogs shouldn’t be left in cars because temperatures drop quickly, a media release said. Dogs need a bed, pillow or blanket in a place off the floor to sleep, and pet owners should consider dressing short-haired dogs in a coat or sweater with a high collar.

Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in Manhattan, said walking a dog on a leash is especially important in the winter because dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost in a snowstorm.

"More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears her ID tags,” Murray said.

The Suffolk County SPCA said dogs that are sick, old, very young or short-haired are especially vulnerable to the bitter cold and should be taken out only to relieve themselves. If a dog frequently lifts its paws, whines or stops during its walk, it may need booties, the SPCA told the Associated Press. Frostbite can turn a pet's skin red, white, or gray and scaly, and if that happens, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

Under law, outdoor housing for dogs must have a waterproof roof, be structurally sound and have adequate insulation, according to the SPCA, which recommended keeping dogs and cats inside.

At Hunter’s Rein Stable in Otego, many horses are blanketed, depending on if the animal’s coat is clipped or if it needs to be cooled off after exercise, trainer Tammy Sousa said. Horses living outdoors have three-sided sheds for shelter, Sousa said.

"Horses technically are outdoor creatures,’’ said Sousa, who also is the equestrian coach at Hartwick College. "They get heavier coats in the winter.’’

Hunter’s Rein Stable has an indoor arena, Sousa said, and she continues to give riding lessons to advanced students when temperatures drop as low as 15 or 20 degrees. Students also have to dress appropriately for the weather, Sousa said.

"In all honestly, I don’t love the winter,’’ Sousa said. But humid, 95-degree weather wouldn’t be comfortable either, she said, and the focus is the horse's life. 

"I enjoy what I do’’ Sousa said. "It’s the nature of the beast.’’