Law enforcement looking for at-risk animals on freezing nights

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- In 2014, Forsyth County Animal Control officials say they have records of as many as 10 animals dying as a result of being left in the cold – and that's just the ones that they found out about. This year, they say they're already investigating a possible cold-related death – and we're only a week in.

Wednesday night into Thursday morning, temperatures could drop into the single digits. This has prompted an initiative which includes every law enforcement agency in Forsyth County.

"The last moments of an animal's life, as it freezes to death, is not like slipping into a warm bath," said Matt Breeding, a Forsyth County assistant district attorney. "It's panic, it's pain and it's fear."

A dog's average body temperature is anywhere from 101 – 102.5 degrees. If their body temperature drops to 100.5 degrees, they could be in the early stages of hypothermia.

"By the time it gets down to 94 degrees, that's when you've got a situation you probably can't pull them back from," said Dr. Molly Douglass, of the Animal Hospital of Clemmons.

To make an attempt to save the lives of at-risk animals, Forsyth County Animal Control officials are trying to follow up on every lead before it gets too cold outside.

"Some people I think just don't care," Forsyth County Animal Control's Corporal Randy Brown said. "So, it's our job to go out there and make sure people are doing what they need to do."

We followed as Corporal Brown investigated anonymous tips. The first was that of a Rottweiler that was apparently tied to a tree with no food, water or shelter. The dog turned out to have food, water and shelter; but was tied to a tree.

"It's got shelter, but it's going to get so cold tonight, it probably won't be able to stay warm enough," Corporal Brown said to a resident of the home. "So if you've got somewhere in the house you could put him it would help us out a lot."

The next tip resulted in a citation.

"There's two dogs chained on the property with no food, water and shelter, and the dogs are trying to eat rats," Corporal Brown said.

Upon investigation, Corporal Brown determined that the dogs had water, but were chained and their only shelter was a deck.

"That deck is not going to be a sufficient shelter for them. You [have to] have something six-sided that keeps the wind off the animals," Brown said to a man at the house.

"We'll be doing some paperwork for the actual dog owner later on, ordering him to get dog houses if the dogs are outside," he said.

The owner of the dogs was not given a criminal citation, but had he, the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office would prosecute him to the full extent of the law. They are the only district attorney's office in the state with a specialized animal cruelty task force.

"Our office will screen these cases very, very carefully," Breeding said. "They will be prosecuted very aggressively."

Experts say on nights below freezing, all animals should be brought inside; whether it's into a garage, basement or enclosed shed. Their shelter should be off the ground and they must always have food and water.

They say it's best to use warm towels to keep animals warm if they're coming in from the cold. You can use a heating pad to warm them, but are urged to only have it set on low. If an animal is showing signs of hypothermia, using a heating pad could hurt them.

On a night where temperatures are in single digits, animals should not be let outside longer than five to ten minutes.

If residents have outdoor animals and cannot afford a six-sided dog house for shelter, the Forsyth County Animal Shelter says they have some to give away for free.