By Janet McAfee

Coachella Valley residents and their pets have experienced some cold days this winter. However, now in February most of our pets are basking in bright desert sunlight when they go outside, though some of our mountain peaks are still tipped with snow. The news brings us reports of freezing blizzards ravaging our East Coast, and I shudder to think how this extreme weather impacts domestic animals, particularly young kittens and puppies kept outside. There are many compelling reasons to include your pet as an INSIDE member of your family, and the extreme weather that brings them suffering, frostbite, and death is only one of those reasons.

Why do some people believe their pets are perfectly fine outside 24 hours a day? Someone I know believes it is okay to keep the family dog in the back yard, banned from crossing the threshold of the family home. This dog chews up everything in the yard and digs holes from boredom. Some people were raised by parents whose admonishing “Dogs belong outside!” still replays in their decision making. Many believe being outdoors all the time keeps their cat happier. Some folks grew up on family farms where the cats and dogs mingled outdoors with the farm animals and slept in the barn at night. They believe “My family did it this way, and that’s what I do too!”

Sometimes pets are relegated to the outdoors when their humans develop allergies, have a new baby, or develop behavior problems. A professional dog trainer can help these situations. People can get lots of free advice online or from an animal welfare organization to solve pet problems, which is preferable to separating it from the humans it loves. Ironically, keeping a dog for home security in the backyard doesn’t do much good when the burglars break into the dwelling where the valuables are kept.

During the past year, a shocking story surfaced about an Arizona boarding facility where 20 dogs perished from heat stroke. Animals cannot be left on hot concrete surfaces in our desert sun. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do, and rising temperatures can cause a multitude of medical problems including heat stroke.

Many small dogs and cats are killed by prey, including coyotes. Tiny animals can be seized by birds of prey such as hawks and owls. A friend of mine had the horrific experience of hearing her Yorkshire Terrier cry out amidst the flutter of wings, and the dog disappeared in a matter of seconds. Animals can escape and be stolen from back yards, so you are wise to keep them supervised when outdoors.

What can you do if someone you know keeps their dog chained up in the backyard, or confined outdoors in bad weather? These animals often become a neighborhood nuisance with their barking. Under California penal code section 597, it is illegal to tether or chain a dog to a doghouse, post or other structure for longer than 3 hours in a 24 hour time period. Our leash laws forbid dogs from roaming neighborhoods. Engage your neighbor in a calm conversation, and ask them in a non-accusatory manner why they keep their pet outside. Most people would do better if they had more information and assistance. Give them a copy of this article. Contact county animal control if the situation is abusive.

Here is the best reason of all for keeping your pet in the house as a treasured member of the family. He will become your best buddy, loyal, happy to see you when you arrive home, comfort you when you are sick, and communicate without speaking in ways you never imagined.