“If we had our way, no pets would be kept outside in this weather,” said Debby MacDonald, MHS Chief Cruelty Investigator and Facility Director of the MHS Detroit Center for Animal Care. “But because the law allows them to be kept outside as long as they have adequate food, water and shelter, we’re going to be out there making sure they have the proper provisions.” 

If pet owners leave their animals outdoors for any length of time, they are required by Michigan state law to provide enough food and water, as well as adequate shelter. MHS recommends that dogs be provided a well-built, insulated, slant-roofed dog house. The interior should be just large enough for the dog to stand and to lie down comfortably and slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation. The door should face away from prevailing winds and have a protective flap to eliminate drafts. Clean, dry straw should be provided for bedding, rather than towels, rugs or blankets, which absorb moisture and freeze in frigid temperatures.

 Examples of inadequate shelter frequently encountered by MHS Cruelty Investigators include an unheated garage or shed, a dog house that is too large or lacks straw, or dogs simply tied out to a porch, fence or deck with no shelter at all.


Additionally, MHS recommends the following pet safety tips: 

•             When temperatures plummet, pets should not be left outside for any length of time. Be sure to bring small or short-haired pets in when temperatures reach 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to take into account precipitation and wind chill. 

•             Cats should be kept indoors or at least brought into a warm, animal proofed garage during severe weather. 

•             Roaming cats often seek the warmth of car engines, so be sure to knock on the car hood or honk the horn before starting your car to startle them and give them a chance to escape. 

•             Increase the amount of food you provide for dogs left outside by 10-20 percent during the winter months. The extra calories are needed to help an animal to stay warm. 

•             Regular access to clean, unfrozen water is also critical. Check drinking water frequently – every few hours – to ensure that it is unfrozen.

•             If an animal is cold to the touch, or his paws and ears are pale, he may be suffering from frostbite. Move the animal to a warmer area and contact your veterinarian immediately. 


To report pets left outside without proper shelter, contact a local animal shelter or police.

Failing to provide proper provisions for pets can result in misdemeanor animal cruelty violations carrying a sentence of up to 93 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, community service, and loss of pet ownership for a specified amount of time. More serious violations could warrant felony charges. 

The Michigan Humane Society is the largest and oldest animal welfare organization in the state. MHS works to end companion animal homelessness, provide the highest quality service and compassion to the animals entrusted to our care, and to be a leader in promoting humane values. For more information, visit www.michiganhumane.org.