Dog-walkers are essential to any shelter, as adoptable dogs thrive on human interaction, exercise, and outdoor stimulation. Most of the time, Fargo’s Homeward Animal Shelter has no shortage of pet-lovers willing to volunteer their time.
However, recent weather developments have led to a shortage of volunteers, as few are willing to brave the cold. The shelter is currently looking for dog-walkers willing to commit weekly two-hour sessions for a minimum of three months.
Luckily, Homeward Animal Shelter has rules in place to keep both the dogs and their walkers safe and comfortable. If it’s colder than 10-15 degrees, dogs are only taken out for bathroom breaks or short walks. Otherwise volunteers can just spend time playing or cuddling with them in their kennels.
When it comes to taking dogs out in cold weather, owners should first take them in for wellness exams, to be sure they don’t have medical conditions that could worsen in lower temperatures. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances have a harder time regulating their body temperatures, while elderly pets have lower tolerance for the cold and are prone to slipping and falling on ice.
In any case, no dog should be kept outside in the cold for extended periods of time. Just as dogs can suffocate in hot cars during the summer, they can also freeze in cold cars during the winter, so leaving them unattended is not a risk worth taking.
Although many owners enjoy putting sweaters on their dogs, the most vulnerable parts of their body are their paws. Protective socks and shoes can be bought online and at pet stores, and owners should frequently check their paws for signs of cold-weather injury or ice accumulation between their toes.
Other risks include antifreeze, deicers, and other chemicals commonly used in winter, which animals can easily step in. To be safe, clean your dog’s socks and shoes and wipe down their paws upon coming back inside.
If the dog starts limping, shivering, whining, slowing down, or looking for places to burrow in, bring them inside immediately, as these could be signs of hypothermia or frostbite, which need a veterinarian’s immediate attention.
Dogs can often become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide scents that would help them find their way home. Therefore, always be sure the dog has a well-fitting collar and microchip with up-to-date identification and contact information.
This article previously appeared in the High Plains Reader.