Foxes belong in the wild

Charlie Powell

Rain showers, wheat stubble, and cooler temperatures mean fall is underway on the Palouse.It also means you have plenty of time to winterize pets. But with everything stacked against your family now, why not get a jump on this task?

Here’s a great rule of thumb based upon a Pennsylvania State law. Libre’s Law prohibits pet owners from leaving dogs outside for more than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees, whether they have shelter or not. If one manages pets this way, it would be hard to do them harm unintentionally.

For those who keep pets outside and also provide shelter, make sure the sheltering is done properly.

First, make sure the structure is safe. Nailing something together quickly on a frosty night may result in protruding nails and other hazards. Consider some of the seamless plastic composite structures that are commercially available.

To save money, check local sales websites to see if you can purchase a used one. Take out an online “wanted” ad and use a commercial photo to illustrate what you need.

After you’ve acquired a safe structure, make sure it will hold body heat and that it does not retain moisture. Some people go too far with the heat concept and wire in a high wattage light bulb or even a space heater. That’s unnecessary and a fire hazard, too.

Instead, insulate a doghouse floor well with good old straw. Straw is cheap. It doesn’t compact easily, wicks away moisture and it is biodegradable. Some may think a thick pad of towels or old bed linens would be ideal, but such things typically are not the best. They work well when dry but quickly absorb and hold moisture. That moisture will wick an animal’s body heat away even if it doesn’t freeze.

Place a doghouse near or within an existing structure. A garage or tool shed is a good choice. Be sure to face the entryway opposite the prevailing winds in your area. And place the whole house with the entryway facing, but not touching a wall. This prevents drafts.

If a doghouse is placed within a structure, doors can be left partially open or closed tight as conditions need.

What about cat houses? Yes, people do provide outside shelter for their cats. Simply go to YouTube and search “how to build a cat house.” Your mind will be blown with the designs and the lengths people will go to.

However you build one, make sure it has two access points. The reason is outdoor cats are preyed upon by other animals. While they may or may not be killed, injuries from a skunk or raccoon can be costly. Use plastic flap doors.

Cat houses typically need some insulation and lend themselves to it better than dogs. Most, but not all cats will not eat insulation. Dogs may or may not. If adding insulation, it would probably be best to cover any that is exposed on the interior. Insulating animal houses doesn’t need much and is a great way to reuse packing products that we otherwise can’t recycle.

The last tip involves water. All animals need access to clean, abundant, liquid water — not ice. Most animals cannot lick enough water from solid ice to meet their daily intake needs.

One exception are yaks that live above the Arctic Circle. Wild and even domesticated yak have evolved to use their breath and the long hair around their mouths to trap heat and melt ice to drink. They’ve also evolved water-sparing metabolic accommodations for long winters.

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.

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