HUNTSVILLE, Ala - When the area is experiencing cold temperatures like we saw this week it's important to take care of pets, especially those who spend most of their time outdoors. A Huntsville city ordinance goes into effect March 1, to make sure people follow certain guidelines when it comes to how they treat animals that are left outside unattended.
Keeping dogs chained up in a yard will soon be against the law in the city of Huntsville.
"You cannot chain your dog anymore to a fixed point tether unless you are standing outside monitoring the dog," said Karen Sheppard, Director of Huntsville Animal Services.
What can people do instead?
"You'll either have to have a runner for your dog or you'll have to build a pen or put in a new fence," she said.
The pen must be at least 200 square feet.
She says this decision is part of a national movement.
"For the last 20 or 30 years, the United States has been addressing is it fair to chain a dog up to a fixed and keep it that way for days, weeks, months or even years? And as time keeps progressing more and more cities are saying no, it's not," she said.
In addition to this new rule, the ordinance strengthens pet regulations outlined in existing city ordinances which include, requiring that outdoor pets have access to clean, fresh water and proper food and animals must also have a structurally sound, water and windproof shelter.
She says the water now must be potable.
"We did add potable because we'll go and the water is just filthy and so now we can say, 'look the water is filthy,'" she said.
The animal must be fed enough to maintain it's proper weight.
"The dog and cats have to have the appropriate amount of food to where they have a good body score. So, there might not be food out and that's fine, but we want to see that the body condition or the weight of the pet is appropriate," she said.
There are now more requirements to maintain a safe, dry shelter.
"Now our shelter, instead of just having a floor, four sides a door and roof, we also made some more specific, you can't have your shelter where water runs through it so that when it rains really hard. All the sudden the shelter's got water in the bottom of it," she explained.
The shelter must also be weather appropriate. If the dog is found shivering in the yard, people will be required to fill the dog house with wheat straw.
"We used to encourage people to get the straw when we could tell the dog was really shivering or the cat was shivering, but now we can say hey we'll be back tomorrow to make sure you got the straw," she said.
They also need to make sure the shelter doesn't get too hot.
"You can put a dog house in the sun and it'll be, you know a 90-degree day and the dog house is 100 degrees because the dog house is just cooking. And so now we're requiring people when it's hot, they need to provide that the doghouse itself has shelter whether that's a sunshade or a really good tree," she said.
She says animals deserve respect.
"We just really want people and animals to live in harmony. We really want pets to be more than just a lawn ornament, they're part of the family and we want them to have the appropriate care," she said.
The penalty for not following the new law is a cruelty to animals citation which carries at $300 fine.
Sheppard says if people need financial assistance to install a runner the organization Helping Animals Without Shelters or HAWS is willing to help.