dog in snow
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
November 4, 2020 ·  7 min read

You Could Now Land In Jail For Leaving Your Dog Out In The Cold

In the state of Pennsylvania, leaving your dog out in the cold could land you in jail.

In 2016, a small Boston Terrier puppy in Pennsylvania was rescued from a near-death situation. As the news spread, animal rights activists across the state began demanding tougher punishments for perpetrators of animal cruelty. In 2017, state legislatures passed a law that crafted new protections for animals [1].

Jail Time for Leaving your Dog Out in the Cold

The law was named “Libre’s Law”, after the tiny puppy that was found severely emaciated, and covered in wounds and maggots [2]. Libre’s story sparked international outrage, prompting lawmakers to enact stiffer penalties for those who are found responsible for animal cruelty.

The bill is called the Animal Abuse Statute Overhaul Bill. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf signed it into legislation on June 28, 2017.

Of course, all states have animal cruelty laws, but at the time, most of them had not included a provision that defined leaving your pet out in the cold as “cruelty”. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in 2017 the only states that had weather-related statutes were Nevada, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, along with other local municipalities [3].

Thanks to Libre’s Law, Pennsylvania has added itself to that list. The law is meant to prevent neglect and abuse from owners who believe that their dog can endure freezing temperatures because of their fur. The law includes the following rules:

  • No more than 9 hours tethered in a 24-hour period.’
  • Tether must be 3 times longer than the size of the dog’s length or 10 feet.
  • No more than 30 minutes in 90+ or -32-degree weather.
  • Must have water and shade.
  • Must be secured by an appropriate collar — no tow or log chain, nor choke, pinch, prong, or chain collars.
  • Tethered space must be clear of excessive waste.
  • No open sores or wounds on the dog’s body.

Anyone who breaks this law could face felony charges. This could include a fifteen hundred dollar fine, or a prison sentence of up to seven years [4].

Is Libre’s Law Working?

In the three years since Governor Wolf signed Libre’s Law, more than 21 thousand offenses have been recorded. The year-by-year breakdown is as follows:

  • 2017: 967 offenses
  • 2018: 11 836 offenses
  • 2019: 8 405 offenses [5]

Over fifty percent of offenders were male, and more than half of the offenses were cases of neglect. 41 percent of reports were for animal cruelty, and the remaining seven percent were for aggravated cruelty.

A person commits aggravated cruelty when they knowingly and maliciously cause death or harm to an animal by rendering a part of the animal’s body useless, or seriously disfiguring the animal [6]. Lawmakers created this felony under Libre’s Act.

Read: Washington becomes seventh U.S. state to outlaw wildlife killing contests

Prepping Your Pets For Winter

Even before it became a punishable offense, leaving your dog out in the cold has never been a good idea. Even though they have fur, many dogs (and cats, for that matter) are not equipped to withstand cold temperatures for long periods of time.

According to Oregon veterinarian Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, pets can get hypothermia for the same reason mountain climbers get hypothermia regardless of what clothing they’re wearing.

“Mammalian systems for heat retention and regulation can be overwhelmed by excessive cold,” she says [7].

She explains that when an animal’s coat gets wet, it loses much of its ability to insulate the animal. She compares it to wearing a t-shirt when it’s below freezing, and your pet’s nose, toes, and ears are even more vulnerable to the cold.

Atlanta veterinarian Jean Sonnenfield, DVM, says that for this reason pets need protection from extreme cold. This includes providing them with warm, dry, draft-free shelter; plenty of food; and lots of water. 

Read: Dogs Must be Walked Twice a Day, According to a New German Law

Coats: Coats can be a good idea, depending on your pet. Sonnenfield says that cats in particular do not tolerate coats well. Susan G. Wynn, DVM, a veterinary nutritionist in Georgia, says that in some cases the clothes could make things worse. If your dog’s clothes get wet, they put him at risk for frostbite. They may also try to wriggle out of it, which puts them at risk for suffocating themselves.

Properly-fitted booties that fit snuggly, but not too tight, can protect your dog’s feet without cutting off their circulation.

Young pets: puppies and kittens, as well as older animals, should not be outside, even if you bundle them up. They don’t have the fat, metabolism, or adequate fur to keep them warm.

Dark nights: if you’re walking your pet in the early morning or at night, it can be difficult to see them. For this reason, it is a good idea to get your pet a reflective collar, tag, or leash to make them more visible [7].

Prepare a Space For Your Dog

If you have a dog that likes to spend lots of time outdoors, you need to make sure that you take the appropriate steps to keep them safe:

  • Making sure your dog has warm, dry, draft-free, covered shelter, preferably in a garage, shed, or beneath a carport or porch awning.
  • Warming that shelter with bedding you check daily — wet bedding can be fatal to a pet. Look into purchasing electric heating products specifically made for a dog’s use.
  • Being sure that fresh, unfrozen water is available to your dog every day. You can find inexpensive warmers to keep your pet’s water from freezing.
  • Providing your dog plenty of food; pets need even more calories in the winter to help them keep warm.

No matter how much your dog loves being outside, however, you should always bring them in when the temperatures get particularly bad. A good rule to live by is if you wouldn’t want to be outside for long, neither would your pet [7].

Read: Animal Shelter Creates ‘Real-Life’ Living Room for Dogs to Show off Their Personalities

Know the Signs of Hypothermia

Leaving your dog out in the cold for too long can lead to hypothermia. It is important as a pet owner that you recognise the signs of hypothermia in animals so you can treat them right away. The signs include:

  • violent shivering, followed by listlessness
  • weak pulse
  • lethargy
  • muscle stiffness
  • problems breathing
  • lack of appetite
  • rectal temperature below 98°F
  • coma
  • cardiac arrest

If your pet is showing signs of hypothermia, the first thing you should do is bring them into a warm room. Then, wrap them in a warm blanket or coat. An easy way to warm up a blanket is to toss it into the dryer for a few minutes.

Next, give them four teaspoons of honey or sugar in warm water to drink. If your pet is too weak to drink, you can put one to two teaspoons of corn syrup on their gums to give them a boost of energy.

You can also wrap warm water bottles in blankets or towels and place them against your pet’s abdomen and under their armpits before wrapping them up. It is important that you never use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets because this could cause burns. It may also cause your pet’s blood vessels to dilate, which reduces circulation to vital organs.

Finally, if you suspect your pet has hypothermia, you should call your veterinarian right away [7].

Know the Signs of Frostbite

Leaving your dog out in the cold too long can also lead to frostbite. The signs of frostbite in animals include:

  • pale, gray, or blue skin at first
  • red, puffy skin later
  • pain in ears, tail, or paws when touched
  • skin that stays cold
  • shriveled skin

To treat frostbite, apply warm water to the affected area for at least twenty minutes. Be very careful that you don’t rub or massage the area because doing so could cause permanent damage. As always, call your vet right away if you think your pet has frostbite [7].

Keep Your Pets Warm this Winter

It’s easy to assume that our pets are more weather-resilient than we are, but in most circumstances that is simply not the case. Just like us, pets need warmth, shelter, and food in order to stay healthy. 

Leaving your dog out in the cold can be extremely dangerous, so when the temperature drops, don’t forget to tend to their needs as well as your own.

Keep Reading: Animal Cruelty Is Officially a Nationwide Felony