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Updated: 16th January 2019 13:02

Falling temperatures brought rise in Alberta animal welfare investigations

The province's recent cold snap had animal rescue agencies working a bit of overtime to save pets left out in the cold.

The Alberta SPCA investigated 49 cases in the last week of December 2017

Ruby was one of the dogs seized by animal rescue groups during the recent cold snap. (Facebook)

The province's recent cold snap had animal rescue agencies working a bit of overtime to save pets left out in the cold.

Officers with the Alberta SPCA were dispatched to 49 investigations across the province in the last week of 2017, five more than their weekly average for the year.

The adverse weather was one factor for the end-of-year spike, said Roland Lines, spokesperson for the Alberta SPCA.

"One of the things we found with the cold snap is that it sometimes prompts people to call us," he told CBC News. "It'll be a situation they've been concerned about for a few weeks … they think, 'Oh, those animals probably aren't doing so well.' "  

There is at least one week every winter where calls spike, Lines said.

The numbers do not include investigations in the province's two largest cities. Officers with Edmonton's Animal Care & Control and Calgary's Animal & Bylaw Services field calls within city limits.

Environment Canada warning

Extreme cold weather warnings — when the temperature drops below -30 for more than two hours in a given region — were issued for most of the province right after Christmas Day and into the New Year.

Environment Canada gives advice for surviving frigid weather on its website, including advice for pet owners.

"If it's too cold for you to stay outside, it's too cold for your pet to stay outside." - Environment Canada

Ten SPCA officers across the province field approximately 2,300 calls per year.

Lines said 40 per cent of these calls include an investigation of the animal owner because their pet demonstrates some signs of neglect.

Only in extreme cases of neglect are pets seized from their owners.

Dogs most affected by cold

Half the calls the Alberta SPCA received came from concerned neighbours about dogs outside in the cold.

"In an urban setting … they might hear them barking," Lines said. "That's why most of the calls in the cold weather tend to be about dogs."

In one rescue, Tessa Lee with the Whitecourt Homeless Animal Rescue Foundation (WHARF) braved -20 degree temperatures to seize five half-frozen puppies from a property near Alberta Beach, a hamlet roughly 70 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, on December 23. 

The puppies had to be bottle-fed small meals every couple of hours for the first two days, Lee said. One of the puppies, named Ruby, was originally unable to lift her head or her body until Christmas Day.

The recovery proved short-lived for the pup. Five days later, she was rushed to the closest veterinarian clinic, where they discovered a low white-blood cell count.

She died after a failed blood transfusion.

Although the veterinarian in charge of Ruby's case does not know if the puppy died from the cold or from malnutrition, Lee said she did not stand a chance.

"If she was a fat, normal puppy, we could have probably brought her back," Lee told CBC News.

Unfortunately, Lee said Ruby's death is not the first case she has seen during the busy Christmas season.

"We also get dogs in body conditions where … they look like the walking dead," she said. "You can't believe that they're still alive."

Signs animal is in distress

Extreme cold warnings were issued for most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces Thursday night.

If the temperatures dip again in the Prairies, Lines said there are many ways to tell if your pet is suffering.  

Obvious signs are dogs and cats lifting their paws during a walk in the snow or full-body tremors.

If your dog wants to stay outside, pad its dog house with hay or other thick materials to keep it warm, he said.



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