In just an hour's time Thursday, the York County SPCA received calls from five people complaining about dogs tethered outside in this week's frigid temperatures, Melissa Smith said.
"We are being inundated with calls -- 26 in the last couple days alone -- because of the weather, and people being concerned about outside dogs," said Smith, executive director of the county SPCA.
"Frigid temperatures become a dangerous issue for outside dogs."
State law allows people to keep their dogs outside no matter the weather, but requires owners of outside dogs to provide fresh water and adequate shelter.
"Water is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer," Smith said. "But keeping water unfrozen in this weather is nearly impossible."
Bring 'em in: She urged owners to bring their pets indoors during extreme weather.
"Just put them in a garage, a barn -- anywhere they can get a little more warmth," she said.
Owners who won't do that must at least line their dog shelters with fresh, dry straw. They should affix a flap to the entrance and make sure the box is in a location where there's a windbreak, she said.
Smith also urged people to call the SPCA to report possible animal cruelty or neglect.
"When in doubt, always make the call," she said. "We can at least require owners to provide straw in a dog's box. We can at least require them to provide fresh water."
Even animals with adequate shelter can suffer hypothermia if they're underweight or get wet, Smith said.
So far this winter the SPCA hasn't received any reports of dogs that have died of cold, but it has in the past, she said.
Ordinance: A new ordinance in five York County municipalities has made it easier to protect dogs, especially this week, Smith said.
Nearly a year ago, the York County SPCA sent out packets to every municipality in the county, asking them to consider adopting a tethering-restriction ordinance.
Mount Wolf Borough and Spring Garden, Springettsbury, Heidelberg and York townships have passed versions of the ordinance, which requires residents to bring in outside dogs during severe weather.
Constantly tethered dogs are twice as likely to bite someone, according to Smith.
So far this week, concerned citizens called the SPCA about two outside dogs in York Township and one in Springettsbury Township.
'Last resort': None of the owners was cited and all agreed to take their dogs inside, Smith said.
"A citation is the very last resort," she said. "Many residents (in these five municipalities) still don't know about the ordinance. So first and foremost, we need to educate them."
Smith said this week's extreme temperatures have prompted renewed discussion about the ordinance with residents of municipalities that haven't passed it.
"We see this as an opportunity to reopen the conversation," she said.
People who support tethering restrictions should contact their municipal officials and make their opinions heard, Smith said.
Anyone with questions about the tethering ordinance can call Smith at 764-6109, ext. 126. People also can call the SPCA to report a pet they suspect is being neglected, including being left outside without proper shelter and water.
-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.