By Janet McAfee

As freezing temperatures grip our nation this month, countless dogs and cats perish when kept outdoors in the extreme weather.  While snow is a rare occurrence in the Coachella Valley, our winter nights drop below freezing in some areas. Please bring your pets indoors for shelter when extreme weather hits. There are many other compelling reasons to include your pets as inside members of the family throughout the year.  

Most Coachella Valley residents are wonderful pet owners, and their dogs are treated like part of the family indoors.  However, I recently had a conversation with a young woman in her late twenties who keeps her dogs outside 24 hours a day. I tried to educate her about the reasons why this practice is harmful, but she believed they are “unclean”.

Some people were raised by parents whose admonition, “Dogs belong outside!” still rings in their subconscious.  Some people grew up on farms or in countries where dogs are often kept as outdoor-only animals.  However, we live in a geographical area of extreme weather where keeping a dog outdoors can jeopardize his health and even cost him his life.  Leash laws now forbid dogs from roaming neighborhoods. 

Dogs are social pack animals, and want nothing more than to be by your side and involved in many of your activities. They are highly social creatures, born to be part of a pack or a human family. Most outdoor-only dogs suffer physically and psychologically when deprived of social contact. 

It is a sad sight to see a neighbor’s dog tied to a post day after day, forlorn and bereft of human companionship.  Some of these animals 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.  If you decide to approach offending friends and neighbors, do so in a nonjudgmental way, trying to educate them about the hazards of keeping their dog outdoors.  Ask them, “Why do you leave your dog outside all the time?”

The desert heat is reason enough not to leave your dog outside during the summer.  Rising temperaments can cause a multitude of medical problems including death from heat stroke.  Older dogs and puppies are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke.  Think about a dog having to drink hot water out of his bowl in the sizzling summer weather, and worse yet having the water dry up.  It is easy to forget to supply food and fresh water when your dog is always out of sight.  

Ironically, keeping an outdoor dog for home security doesn’t do much good when the burglars break into the dwelling where the valuables are kept.  Outdoor dogs are indiscriminate barkers, and no one can tell if they are barking at a prowler or a child riding a bicycle down the street.  An inside dog is a true deterrent to thieves. Outdoor dogs can be stolen by thieves with a variety of sinister motives.

 Small and medium sized dogs are subject to prey.  Coyotes kill many pets.  Tiny dogs may be seized by birds of prey such as hawks and owls.  A friend of mine experienced the horror of hearing her Yorkshire Terrier cry out amidst the flutter of wings, and the dog disappeared in a matter of seconds.

Bored and lonely, outdoor-only dogs develop many bad habits; they dig holes in the yard, they chew on various objects out of boredom, including patio furniture.  This destructive chewing can result in property damage, expensive vet bills, and even death.  Lonely dogs bark day and night, disturbing the neighborhood.  Lacking socialization, they may fail to bond with their humans.

Here is the best reason for keeping your dog in the house with you.  He will become your loving companion, amaze you with his unique personality, comfort you when you are sick, and communicate without speaking in ways you could never imagine.