Safeguarding Strays from Cold Weather

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If one cannot afford to help strays battle through bitter weather, here are some alternatives. Get some help from the community or friends-alike to raise funds, or build a temporary shelter for these strays. Here are some tips on what you can do to make it a better (if not tolerant place) for these animals if you really cannot take them in:

Build an Outdoor Shelter and Feeding Station
Shelters are easy and inexpensive to build. You can use the plans available on the web, or modify a pre-built dog house. Some manufacturers also sell pre-built cat shelters for such purposes.

The shelter should be sited in a quiet, unobtrusive area with a minimal amount of traffic. A good-sized shelter offers a space just big enough for a few of the strays to cuddle. Install a flap on the door to keep out snow and wind. Insulate the shelter against moisture as well as cold! Straw resists the wet and keeps a shelter warm, and is the best choice for insulation and bedding. Blankets are not a good idea, as they absorb moisture like a sponge. In addition to a shelter, you can build a simple feeding station with a roof and sides to protect the animals from the elements while they eat.

Keep Food and Drinking Water from Freezing
Wet food in insulated containers is most ideal for winter time feeding as it takes less energy for the animals to digest compared to dry food – and these strays can use all that extra energy to keep warm.

Preventing liquids from freezing can be a challenge during the winter and can lead to a risk for dehydration. Keep water drinkable by using bowls that are deep rather than wide, and place them in a sunny spot. If possible, refill the bowls with hot or warm water. A pinch of sugar in the water also keeps it from freezing as quickly, and provides an added boost of energy. An alternative are the heated electric bowls found in many pet shops.

Try to keep to a regular feeding schedule every day. The animals will come to expect you, and the food and water will spend less time in the cold before it is consumed. Feed them in the morning and during the day, if you are home. Feeding at night will encourage other wildlife (the feral ones are a type of wildlife) to visit your yard and eat the food instead of the dogs/cats. If you feed other nocturnal wildlife, feed them in a different area of your yard at night.

Get Educated about the strays, and help stop the breeding cycle with TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return)
Make sure to educate yourself, your family, and your neighbours about the habits of outdoor animals during the winter time. For example, check under the car before starting the engine, as these animals will sometimes crawl into car engines or hide under them for warmth.

Reach out to the community and gather rescue groups to help. Certain shelters are able to assist with providing spay/neuter services and veterinary care to strays. Contact local shelter/ vet for more info. Or simple – Google for more information.

Take In a Stray Dog or Cat in for the Winter
If you see a new animal outdoors, you may think he is lost.  Proceed cautiously.  Rescuing may not be necessary or even the best decision.  Unless the animal is in danger, observe him for a few days to ensure if he really needs help.  First, you want to determine if this is a pet that wanders out from its owner's house, a feral animal, or a stray one.

Become a Foster Caregiver
Though shelters are available, there is always a need for foster homes for pregnant animals, abandoned animals, special needs animals and those recovering from injuries or surgery. Most of the times, shelters are heavily burdened and congested with unwanted animals. Hence the need for foster homes. Foster care allows the dogs/cats to become acclimated in a loving home environment where they are nurtured and cared for until ready for adoption.

Donate to an animal rescue organisation
As a volunteer-based, non-profit organization that receives no government funding, most shelter/ rescue organisation relies entirely on the support of friends in the community to sustain its operations and programs, and rescue animals from difficult and dangerous situations.  We rely heavily on the kindness and generosity of animal lovers near and far to help us do our work. We encourage you to donate to these rescue groups to help realise in their mission to provide safe shelter, veterinary care and socialisation for stray, abandoned, or abused animals until good permanent homes can be found for them.

Author: Ang Mei Hwa

Copyright © 2013 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources
Holistic Living Annex (FEBRUARY 2013)

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