BUCKHANNON – When severe weather strikes the area, oftentimes, animals take the brunt of the cold temperatures.
Luckily for local animal lovers, the City of Buckhannon has an ordinance in place to protect neglected pets, and a local nonprofit — Luv 4 Animals — has been assisting with serious situations.
According to the city Ordinance 397, Section 505.16, animals must be provided with adequate shelter to protect against inclement weather, wind and direct rays of the sun. A person in charge or control of any dog which is kept outdoors or kept in an unheated enclosure must provide the dog with shelter and bedding as prescribed in this section as a minimum, reads the ordinance.
Regarding extreme weather, the ordinance states, “Dogs shall not be penned outside during extreme weather unless the pen is equipped to provide adequate protection.”
The animal care law also inserts specifics about tethering, food and water, waste, surface area, shade, outdoor pens and areas and confinement areas.
Any humane officer or law enforcement officer who determines an animal is being kept in violation of any section of this ordinance is mandated to issue a warning to the owner or guardian of the animal or property owner on which the violation is present.
After the first offense, those who disobey the ordinance could face fines up to $2,000.
“The ordinance allows us the ability to enforce situations more definitively where animals are placed in harm’s way,” said Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory. “We have not had to enforce it so far this year, however. When it is enforced, the pet owner is given a citation for violation of the ordinance and they have to appear before the municipal judge.”
Currently, West Virginia lawmakers are working to establish “Winston’s Law,” a bill that would make it a felony offense to commit actions of cruelty to animals which causes serious injury or death of animal.
This piece of legislation comes after a small Yorkie was found abandoned in Marion County without food, water or shelter.
As of Jan. 28, the bill had passed the state Senate.
But how often are local animals found neglected, and what can community members do to help those without voices?
Robin Keough, animal advocate and founder of Luv 4 Animals, said the local nonprofit receives messages via Facebook requesting assistance for dogs found in the neighborhoods with poor or no shelter, water or food.
“Sometimes, they seem to hesitate to reach out to law enforcement, which is the first thing we advise them to do,” she said. “Perhaps, they are intimidated or fearful of retribution from the neighbors if they found out who called, but the calls to law enforcement can be confidential.”
Recently over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Keough said Luv 4 Animals was asked to help in serious situations with dogs reported to be chained out during the polar vortex without adequate shelter and no food or water.
The concerned people advised Luv 4 Animals that they had tried to contact the animal control officer and sheriff’s department; however because it was a holiday and after hours, there was no one available to help, said Keough.
“LUV 4 Animals’ President Desiree Poling requested advice from a state police officer who was on duty, ‘Would she get in trouble if she found the dog, and owners weren’t home, could she just leave straw in the dog house and food and water,’” explained Keough. “The officer advised against her going out at night in such conditions, and that she could be prosecuted for trespassing.
“Out of concern for her safety, he went above and beyond, and he escorted her to the area, and to make a long story short, contact was made, and help was offered and provided,” she continued.
That same night, law enforcement went to another address that had a report of animal neglect, and after Desiree Poling made offers to help, the pet owner decided to voluntarily give up two small dogs for rehoming.
“Sometimes, people adopt dogs with the best of intentions, but circumstances change, people move where the jobs are, and not all landlords allow inside pets, some people end up working 12-hour shifts,” Keough said. “It is hard to house-train a dog if you aren’t there, and dogs end up outside on a chain or in a pen, which is not a pleasant or rewarding arrangement for person or dog.”
So, what should folks do if they find an animal being neglected?
Keough says to contact the animal control officer and local law enforcement.
“They have the authority to intervene, we do not,” she said. “We can only offer help, which we are glad to do.”
Keough continued, “The community needs to let law enforcement know that they want the law enforced. This is a decent community with good values. Animal cruelty and neglect are against the law and pet owners not complying may be prosecuted and the animals seized, but law enforcement needs to be notified.”
If a community member finds an animal that has been exposed to the extreme elements and has signed of hypothermia or frostbite, Keough advises the animal will require treatment by a veterinarian.
“It is best to avoid subjecting dogs to prolonged exposure to cold, wet and icy conditions,” said Keough, who has several years of experience as a nurse. “The ice crystals on their paws can cut and cause damage and the chemicals in de-icing products can make a dog sick when he licks his paws.”
Since the local organization has provided plenty of dog houses, straw and dog food to those in need, Keough suggests that folks purchase the right size of doghouse.
“If it is too big, the dog’s body heat will not warm it and he can still die,” she said. “There needs to be some insulation, a windbreak, ideally and lots of clean, dry straw. That would probably need replaced several times during a long, cold winter. Towels and blankets get wet and freeze, please don’t use them.”
For roughly six years now, volunteers with Luv 4 Animals has dedicated time and effort to making sure animals are given a chance to be safe and happy. And, as always, the local nonprofit is looking for volunteers to continue and expand the number of animals that need help.
“The more volunteers we have the more eyes and eyes we have, which helps in multiple ways. We can help each other as a team to be the eyes and eyes for any situation,” said volunteer Carol Cook. “With winter here, we need to help the community with keeping their animals warm and help with feeding if needed.
“Also, the more volunteers we have, the more connections [there are] to get the animals out there to be adopted. We also have great days when we can walk to dogs at the shelter and give some love,” she added.
If you see an animal without adequate food, water or shelter, contact the county’s animal control officer, Dustin Hollen, by calling 304-473-0308 or 304-613-2734. Concerned residents can also reach the city police department at 304-472-1651 or contact a law enforcement officer on duty by calling the Upshur County E911 Communication Center at 304-472-9550.