Animal rescue groups grapple to keep pets warm amid early cold snap

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Animal rescue groups are already out across the region providing food, straw and even doghouses to protect pets and strays from the early winter weather. 

Rescue volunteers from the Animal Care Network and Banfield Pet Hospital hit the streets on Sunday in Pontiac to distribute supplies to pet owners.  It's part of a new partnership between the rescue group and the chain of veterinary clinics.

Animals kept outdoors need straw to stay warm in the winter, said Lori Elliott, manager of Pontiac outreach for the Animal Care Network. They also need to eat well since it takes extra calories to stay warm outside.

"The cold weather came a little quick, so we (are) out providing straw to make sure these animals are safe throughout the winter," Elliott said.  "They need to have straw for warmth, not blankets. 

As part of the outreach by Animal Care in Network, Kelly Abate, right, and Elizabeth Vega, volunteers from Banfield Pet Hospital in Troy, change a bandage on King, a pitbull who suffered an attack, at his home in Pontiac.

"Blankets are going to get wet and freeze, especially now with the wet slushy weather."

Animal Care Network, part of the Michigan Animal Adoption Network, helps animals at about 300 Pontiac addresses, Elliott said.  Veterinarians and veterinary technicians from several Banfield Pet Hospitals in Oakland County will accompany the Network' outreach teams in Pontiac for four weeks leading up to the holidays. 

They're hand delivering pet food, treats and straw for dog houses, as well as offering nail trims and wellness checks.

"We'll visit a lot of senior citizens," Elliott noted. "A lot of them don't have transportation, so it's hard for them to get out to buy food and other supplies for their pets."

Detroit Dog Rescue has been getting 75 to 80 calls per day from residents concerned about their or their neighbor's animals, said Kristina Rinaldi, the group's executive director. They provide doghouses and straw for animals living outdoors, but also help families transition to keeping their dogs inside.

"The cold weather is already upon us and we are doing everything we can to prepare for it," Rinaldi said. "We have started an outreach program with their owners and that includes providing them with a dog igloo or a dog house, a light weight tie out—we’re trying to manage the situation until we can get the dog into a warm home, preferably the owners house."

The group's primary goal is to help dog owners keep their animals, especially this time of year when shelters are full to the brim, Rinaldi said. In addition to providing food and shelter, Detroit Dog Rescue spays and neuters dogs for free. 

"We’re really focused on pet retention in the winter--otherwise our shelters would be just really full--It's a collaborative effort with the owner," Rinaldi added. "We’re never going to be able to adopt our way out of this situation.

"We can take in dogs all day, but unless we’re stopping the root of the problem and educating people we’re going to have this problem for decades."