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Outdoor pets need special care in winter

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. — When the weather outside is frightful, Fido's doghouse should at least be humane.

Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control officials say that far too often, the shelter that people provide for their outside dogs is less than adequate, which is not only illegal but is also slow, cruel torture for the animal.

"By law, it needs to be an appropriate shelter, specifically designed for that animal," said Peggy Bender, Animal Care & Control's community relations and education specialist. "Whether it's a dog, a horse or whatever, it needs to be designed for them."

Dogs need doghouses that insulate them from the cold ground and also keep their paws out of the mud. While people appreciate square footage, doghouses can't be too big, because their body heat has to warm the space. A doghouse that's too large is a doghouse that's too cold, Bender said.

The length of a doghouse should be the length of the animal plus 12 inches, and it should only be 3 inches taller than the pet.

Doghouses don't have to have a flap on the door, but it does help to keep out the cold. A partition inside that can block the wind from the door also makes a huge difference in your dog's comfort.

Your comfort matters, too: It's a lot easier to clean a doghouse that has a hinged or removable roof, and cleaning is important to ensure that dirt and debris that can hold moisture doesn't build up.

That's why blankets — despite your instincts — are bad ideas: Blankets gather moisture, then freeze when it gets cold. Instead of a warm fuzzy to cuddle up to, you've given Max a hairy ice cube.

What should you give him? Straw — which can be had for $5 a bale at most any hardware store or for free at Animal Care & Control — or wood chips, Bender said. Did we mention straw is free?

"If someone has a dog that spends time outside, they can come here and we'll give them straw," Bender told The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/1ciYi2C ).

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