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Neglected? I Think Not

January 9th, 2014

It seems everywhere you turn people are upset that some folks have outdoor animals. I’ve seen lots of name calling, confiscation of pets and even in some municipalities people are citing people for having outdoor pets. With proper shelter, warm bedding, water and extra feed, many animals do quite fine outside, even during the winter. We have outdoor animals, chickens, ducks, guineas, cats and even Tara spends most of her time outside. I can guarantee that they’re not being neglected, or abused, in fact they’re all happier for it, much, much happier!  These animals would be absolutely miserable if we tried to keep them inside to stay warm all winter.
animal feed 1
Tara is one happy dog when she’s out in the cold, in fact, she’s much happier the colder the weather gets.  She’s been getting extra bones and lots of the fatty pork trimmings we saved when we slaughtered our pigs. As you can see, she’s happy as a clam out in the cold munching on her goodies. The duck pond that has a stock tank heater in it is close at hand, which means she has delicious ducky water to drink (it’s her favorite kind, so much better than the fresh stuff in her heated dog bowl).
animal feed
The chickens, ducks, and guineas are also getting a nice warm meal before they roost up for the night. Remember all those potatoes I planted this past summer in the garden? I’ve been cooking them up on the wood stove and mixing them with fermented grains, dried herbs and a bit of lard as well for good measure.  Naturally, the fowl are tickled pink with these delicious meals and are rewarding me with loads of eggs.
animal feed 2
The Sweets, which is our little feral garage cat, is also spoiled rotten. We have a heated mat for her in the garage, but she refuses to sleep on it, even when the weather dips down to -20. She does however, relish the warm venison burger with added bacon grease. She gobbles it right up along with chicken necks and wings and anything else I take out to her. In the winter she eats about double what she does in the summer.  Her fur is so thick you can’t get your finger through it down to her skin, it’s amazing how velvety she gets during cold weather.  She also loves to hunt down by the sauna, no doubt there are load of mice down there.
The truth is most animals adapt very well, bringing them into a heated space during a cold snap actually does them more harm than good because it can cause loss of their warm winter coat. If you have stray animals around feel free to provide extra nutrient dense food for them and provide shelter with warm bedding, but please don’t try to put them in a heated space to keep them warm. And please, don’t assume those with outdoor animals are neglecting or abusing their pets, sure there are some people that are, but most are not.

Do you have any outdoor animals? How do you help them in cold weather?

32 Comments to “Neglected? I Think Not”
  1. Adelina Anderson on January 9, 2014 at 7:31 am

    I think the neglected animals are the ones who only get kibble and water while chained up outside. As anyone can see you treat you pets/animals with lots of love and respect. I also doubt that you would make them stay outside if they wanted to come into the garage or the house.

    My cats are totally indoor pets. We have some wild animals on our property that would make a meal out of our cats, and the cats really love to sleep and cuddle on the couch.

    Reply to Adelina Anderson's comment

  2. Adriana on January 9, 2014 at 8:13 am

    I’ve been making suet cakes for the chickens, but our rooster seemed to have suffered from a little frostbite on the very ends of his comb and wattle. Have you ever experienced that? I never managed to get our ducks interested in any homemade goodness. In the summer they were pretty much “wild”, just foraging on their own, never interested in anything I gave them. Now they eat a small amount of chicken feed and spend the day poking at the snow. I can’t imagine they’re finding anything to eat! I just hope they make it through the winter!

    Reply to Adriana's comment

  3. Donna A. on January 9, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Excellent post and beautifully written! I know I get angry whenever I see a dog chained up outside with no sun protection… There was a family near where I lived that did this each year. As a treat for my dogs I used to freeze their kibble into ice cubes and they’d get that after a long walk. I loved bringing one to that dog now and again. At least he had water but the lack of shade worried me.
    And I have to say – the Sweets looks so majestic in that photo.

    Reply to Donna A.'s comment

  4. Joan on January 9, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Our cat, who finally convinced us that he should be allowed outdoors last spring has now decided that he isn’t really an outdoor cat and would rather spend the days and nights inside lounging in front of the fire…

    Our chickens live in an unheated coop, and I feel bad for them but they do just fine. I bring them warm water a couple of times a day, and close the door to the outside at night to keep them a bit warmer… I’ve thought of heating up some rocks on the woodstove to put in with them for warmth, but haven’t actually done it yet.

    The horses would normally live outside under the lean-to year round except for when it is below -10F, but this winter they are spending nights in the barn. My first horse is chasing my new one out of the shelter, and I don’t want her to spend the night outside without walls around her to break the wind and a roof to keep her dry. I spend what seems like hours a day lugging warm water from the house for them, breaking ice from buckets, and giving them extra feedings, in addition to now having stalls to clean since they are inside. I finally decided to spend the money and order some insulated water buckets, and guess what – they are out of stock everywhere in the country! I guess that I’m not the only one who had that thought.

    We used to have rabbits and they did need to spend the winter in the house – one was a mini rex and he was just too small to withstand the cold. They spend the winter in a spacious pen in the unheated basement. This is our first winter without the rabbits and while I miss them I have to admit I’m glad for the time savings on chores – everything just takes SO much longer in winter!

    Well, I just finished up my lovely morning cup of chai tea (while reading your blog!), and it’s now time to head outside for morning chores…

    Reply to Joan's comment

    • Susy on January 9, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Our cat Dexter is a tough outdoor cat all spring/summer/fall, come winter, he’s camped out in front of the wood stove.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  5. Jaye on January 9, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Excellent post and points. I hope that all complainers are talking about animals that are actually being neglected.

    Tara and The Sweets are SOOO cute and you can tell their wooly winter coats are in full force :)

    Reply to Jaye's comment

  6. Nancy Settel on January 9, 2014 at 9:12 am

    so great to see and hear someone with common sense growing up we never had an “indoor” dog and I never had allergies. Now when people bring them in our home my allergies start up again. Not all dogs are ment to be indoor dogs and you are not neglecting them by letting them be in their natural habitat. Great article. oh and our dogs loved bacon grease on their dog food who knew we were being smart??? lol.

    Reply to Nancy Settel's comment

  7. Myra S. on January 9, 2014 at 9:19 am

    A very good post, Suzy! Our chickens do fine in their coop during the winter, though we did worry this past week as temps dipped into the single-digits as they are aging ladies (we’re in SE Ohio). We have a beagle outside and she is warm as toast and happy in her house packed with straw. She burrows in deep and pushes the straw up in front of the door. We discussed bringing her in for the overnights but in the end decided that since she’s used to outdoors freedom, putting her in a crate inside would make her nervous and scared or possibly make her sick due the temp differences. We feed them all extra during the colder snaps, and soak their food in water as well to make sure they’re hydrated if their water freezes.

    Reply to Myra S.'s comment

  8. Ann on January 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Good Article, I must add to what others have said.

    Our cats are indoors only because they would be eaten up pretty quickly by local predators. Our dog, a pit mix is more inside than out by her choice. But our next dog will be an Anatolian Shepherd and will only be an outside dog.

    Our chickens also suffered frostbite on their combs during this last cold spell. It wasn’t during the night, in the coops that allowed it to happen, but when they chose to be outside during the day. I only added a little supplemental heat to the big airy coop the 2 days it went so cold. Even so, the eggs they laid froze so I didn’t even come close to overheating it. The guineas refuse to keep any bedding in their little hut but I did cover it with a tarp to keep the worst of the cold breezes and precip out. They did fine. I had 1 momma bunny with a new litter that we did bring into the unheated garage for the worst 2 nights but she is already back outside and much happier for it.

    We give our chickens and guineas fermented grains every night. During the worst of the cold I heated it in the oven slightly. I also made several big dishes of warm oatmeal/grits/rice and they loved that. Of course, we changed out water bowls constantly so they never went long with out warmish water to drink.

    Reply to Ann's comment

    • Susy on January 9, 2014 at 10:39 am

      Frostbite on combs is more caused by humidity than by cold. Make sure the coop is well ventilated, chickens can take very cold weather, but the moisture is what is hard for them. You can also rub a little vaseline or other similar product on their combs. We have chickens with some pretty big combs and their coop is very well ventilated. Even with -20 and below temps, we have seen no frostbite on any of them.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. Deb on January 9, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I have outdoor cats with a plastic tote for a hselter. It is lined with newspapers and then old wool blankets and put in a sheltered place, NW Central Ohio, and they can get into some buildings but they would be airy. The cats have a heated dish and plenty of food. My roo has quite a bit of frostbite on his wattles but not much on his comb as he has a rose comb. One hen has a bit on her longer wattles and maybe another the very tip of her comb. i di put a heater out just below the roost to give a bit of heat for the cold nights and one day. Will take it out today though. I haven’t had frozen eggs because I check 3 times/day for them and check their bucket waterer with chicken nipples. They froze several times those 2 really bad days. Added warm water and made sure they broke loose. I also have indoor cats, but they never go out as they’ve been in since tiny kittens and one is quite elderly that I rescued.

    Reply to Deb's comment

  10. misti on January 9, 2014 at 10:23 am

    If only the animals I saw were treated more like yours than what I see around here. Yes, the horses get their blankets—they look so cute!—and sometimes dogs have adequate housing and food, but most of the dogs around here are unfortunately chained to a tree with no shelter if they want out of the rain, no food or water bowl nearby, I think that’s what people are getting at….or the dogs are running wild getting hit by cars. :( Dogs running wild when you’ve got acreage—no problem. Dogs running wild when you live very close to busy streets—big problem.

    We gave our feral kitties extra blankets and some boxes with blankets for these colder days and they definitely use them when they need to. And wow, yes, their fur is vastly thicker than in summer. It’s quite amazing how ‘fat’ and fluffy they look. (it probably helps that I think they are working on our mole population).

    Here’s to educating non-outside pet owners, but especially those outside pet owners who are neglectful! Keep up being a good role model, y’all!

    Reply to misti's comment

    • Susy on January 9, 2014 at 11:45 am

      Perhaps, but I have some friends who even complain about dogs that spend most of the day outside in a large fenced in yard – they say dogs should be indoors. We also can’t get a dog from a rescue organization b/c we want to keep the outside. We were lucky to get Tara as from an individual, b/c we would not have been able to rescue an Anatolian or other working dog to be with livestock. It’s very sad, b/c one of the reasons there are so many of these working dogs in rescues is because they actually do much better when they have stock to take care of.

      I also have friends who have working dogs and they’re constantly being harassed because their dogs are out in the fields with stock. People call the dog warden on them all the time for abusing their pets by having them in the fields.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  11. Patsy from Illinois on January 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Thank you for taking care of your outdoor animals. There have been two here in our neighborhood that have suffered greatly. Left out with no food or water and wrapped around a tree and can’t get in the doghouse. I heard one screaming one time and I called the police. It had it’s chain wrapped around one leg and it was bloody and it couldn’t move. It’s owners were home in bed. Another was tied to a tree in freezing drizzle with no shelter and couldn’t get to it’s food or water. Horrible. Both dogs were taken from their owners and hopefully found a better life. It happens all the time. So I think you for the excellent way you take care of yours.

    Reply to Patsy from Illinois's comment

  12. Jennifer Fisk on January 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I have about 20 chickens, 4 ducks and 2 turkeys in my hen house. Their waterer is on a heated base and their pellet feeder is hanging in the house. They have roosts and shavings plus I close all the windows and door when it is going to be 0 or windy to prevent them from being in drafts. The goats have straw to snuggle in plus fresh water twice a day when they get their grain. They get extra hay on really cold days. My rabbits are in cages in the basement for my convenience. I hate fighting with frozen dishes and plastic all winter so they reside inside from Thanksgiving until April. My Me Coon kitten, will go out and often stays in the garage overnight rather than come in. My tuxedo female doesn’t step outside from the first snow flake until mid April. The dogs are in and out all day but are in from just after they eat until morning.

    Reply to Jennifer Fisk's comment

  13. Tom Wolfe on January 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    We have a cat, Pepper, who spends most of his time indoors in the winter. He normally loves it outside, but even in the summer months we condition him to come indoors at night (by feeding him only at night) because of the local coyote and cougar population. In our town, on the border of Banff National Park, pets regularly become meals for the many wild animals around. Consequently he has not developed thick winter fur and when it gets cold, -20C or colder, he panics when we throw him outside.

    Reply to Tom Wolfe's comment

  14. whit on January 9, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    I think there is something to be said about education of people about animals. We have neighbours with a goat, 3 dogs and 2 horses, that allow their goat and dogs out without supervision with nothing more than horse wire fencing to keep the “in”. Now if we all lived on 100 acres, it wouldn’t be a problem, but we all live on 5. Now the dogs have killed one of our chickens, the dogs have caused several near accidents in the road, I hear the surrounding neighbours shooing the goat our of their yards constantly, and the owners are ignoring the problem. It’s not a coincidence that I’ve heard gunshots picking up around our area lately…

    A lot of the problems come from people with wants of the fantasy of animal ownership, and little responsibility or empathy to help them be a respectful steward. The ol’ “a puppy is the new handbag” routine.

    Outdoor animals are a blessing-often taking care of responsibilities that we would otherwise have to and thereby becoming great partners to work with. They are the souls of the earth…they brighten up this land with their antics and wonder. How they ever come to trust us for their care is a miracle.

    All this to say that neglect comes in many forms, and I think as long as people use common courtesy and accept ALL responsibility of animal ownership, then they’re doing fine. True love, care, and accepting responsibility for animals looks exactly like what you are doing and what many have commented already.

    Reply to whit's comment

  15. Elizabeth on January 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Wonderfully put. Thank you for writing this post. Growing up on a farm and now continuing a bit of that tradition I have a different understanding of what animals actually need then what my friends in the city think. Many think I should put booties on my sheep when the weather turns! I am so glad I can point them to your post in the future.

    Reply to Elizabeth's comment

  16. Nebraska Dave on January 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Susy, animals have been citified for sure. City owners think their pets are like children and need to be cared for like children. I too have heard about the terrible abuse of leaving outside animals, well, outside.

    Harsh as it may seem animals were made to survive the weather and by doing them a favor and bring them inside where it’s warm, their survival coat doesn’t develop like it should. Your blog pictures of Tara tell the whole story. She is one happy pup.

    Have a great Maine day. It’s supposed to be in the 40s this weekend. Woo hoo! I’m going to the beach. ;-)

    Reply to Nebraska Dave's comment

  17. DebbieB on January 9, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Well said! I’m always impressed with the thoughtfulness and care that goes into your responsible caretaking of your livestock. I love the sleek natural fat and thick fur on your animals, clearly protecting them from the elements. It’s like they’ve put on a well-made overcoat that’s keeping them warm and dry… oh, wait, they HAVE!

    Here, it’s more important to help animals survive heat and humidity rather than cold. A reliable source of fresh water, plentiful shade, and access to air movement are key in keeping animals healthy outdoors here. We had dogs years ago (we only have cats now, indoor pampered babies) who loved being outdoors. They mostly lived in our backyard, where they loved to run the perimeter and chase balls. Let them inside for more than a few minutes, and they’d be begging at the back door to go OUT. We gave them a doggie-door to the laundry room, so they could get into shelter when they needed it (they usually slept in there at night, too) and fresh water indoors and out. They had shade alongside a shed for napping during the day. Once we went on a week-long vacation, and had my sister come every day to provide fresh food and water. The neighbors called Animal Control, saying that we’d “abandoned” our dogs while we were away, because they were outside while we were gone. Animal Control inspected our yard, discovered fresh food and water, and ample shade, with the dogs running free in a large fenced area with no chains, and dismissed the complaint – but we were amazed that “outside” equaled “abandoned” in our neighbor’s mind.

    Animals are designed for outdoor living. It’s only when we alter their natural behavior (like we have done with our cats, who beg to come inside after only a short playtime in the backyard, because they are so spoiled rotten… did I mention?) that they can’t adjust to extreme temps or conditions.

    Reply to DebbieB's comment

  18. Rachael on January 9, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I have a black lab mix, called Buddy. He is an outdoor dog. He loves it out there! Especially when it’s snowing, he plays and and eats the snow. Buddy has a huge house for an outdoor dog. My husband turned a shed that was on our property into his house. It is full of straw and we keep his food and water in there too. Buddy is spoiled rotten. I am used to cooking for a large family, not just for two, so Buddy ends up getting what we can’t eat. I took him to the groomers not too long ago and she commented on how healthy his coat was, eventhough he needed a bath. He is a wonderful dog and I wouldn’t want to keep him cooped up inside. He has a choice to either be in his house or go play outside. He loves it!

    Reply to Rachael's comment

  19. Megan on January 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Great post! My dog loves to hang out in the snow. I have about 20 chickens and they all seem to be doing fine in the unheated hen house, they have no interest in going outside though. I was worried about the pigs we have on pasture with a small shelter but they took all the extra straw and piled it up and buried themselves, they seem to be fine and were out playing today since it warmed up to 25 degrees. The cows and ponies get some extra hay but the cold doesn’t seem to bother them.

    Reply to Megan's comment

  20. Marcia on January 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Arrrgh! That makes me so mad. Those very same people often ignore human suffering but cry over an outdoor dog. This is the second post on this subjet, are you getting comments on your pets?

    Reply to Marcia's comment

    • Susy on January 9, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      I’m exactly with you on the ignorance of human suffering. All I see in my Facebook newsfeed is people complaining about pets being outside. I haven’t seen one post about people worried about the homeless during the cold weather. It drives me crazy.

      We do get comments about our pets, and I have acquaintances who are constantly railing about outdoor pets as if it’s the worst thing in the world and you’re a terrible person for having them. I get some pretty nasty comments from people when I post photos of our outdoor pets.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Marcia on January 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        My patience is very limited for those people. I sometimes try to imagine the sweet global silence of the ignorant shutting up.

        to Marcia's comment

  21. Wendy on January 10, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Stunning picture of The Sweets!

    The only animals we have right now are my daughter’s two remaining chickens. When the temperatures got down into the teens a couple of weeks ago we put a red heat lamp in their roost; we have also fed them suet cakes which they gobbled right up. Even in the cold weather they preferred to be out scratching around the yard, even taking their regular dust baths in one of the flower beds. Now they’ve started laying again.

    What do the critics think animals/livestock did in times before “modern” housing, or, for that matter, in cold third-world countries today? And what about animals like deer? The deer on our property have seemed quite content during our recent colder weather, and we saw three different groups of elk out eating quite happily on our very cold hike last weekend. I guess I didn’t realize that we should have invited them in for tea :)

    Reply to Wendy's comment

  22. Katrina Amstutz on January 10, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    A friend of mine has an outdoor/indoor cat that is well-loved and cared for – yet her neighbors thought it was appropriate to place a cardboard box lined with blankets and a dish of tuna out by their house for the cat! My friend’s cat won’t even touch it. He’s clearly happy and well-fed…

    I grew up overseas (SE Asia) with outdoor/indoor pets. Of course it is very hot over there so we didn’t have to worry about cold weather and our dogs were not allowed outside our property unless on a leash (due to the large amount of neighbor dogs (unvaccinated and usually aggressive) roaming the streets. But our dogs and cats were allowed inside during the day and for the most part slept outside at night. We fed them homemade food mixed with dry food and they always had plenty of water and shelter. But everyone over there kept their pets that way – so it wasn’t uncommon what we were doing.

    Now living in the US, I know that there are plenty of ignorant people who do not care properly for their dogs and their pets suffer for it, but for those who do love their animals and care for them properly (whether they are indoor or outdoor pets) it isn’t fair that they should be judged by those same ignorant people who know nothing about the proper care of animals.

    Reply to Katrina Amstutz's comment

  23. Faith Veley on January 10, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Suzie, I too have been enjoying feeding our critters healthy treats.
    One thing I try to do is be aware of any possible toxicity that certain animals might have to foods. One in particular is feeding chickens foods from the nightshade family. All parts of potatoes and tomato leaves have been said to be toxic.. Another blogger that I follow is Fresh Eggs Daily. She writes: No white potatoes – cooked or raw, skins or flesh which are part of the nightshade family and contain the toxin solanine. Solanine destroys red blood cells and can cause diarrhea and heart failure. It is sometimes killed by cooking at high heats, however boiling won’t reduce the solanine levels. Best to stay away from all parts of the white potato including the vines and leaves.

    (Note: Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, not the nightshade family, and perfectly safe to feed to your chickens.)
    Thanks for your encouragement to live simply. Faith.

    Reply to Faith Veley's comment

    • Susy on January 11, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      Some of that information about the nightshade has actually been proven untrue. Tomato leaves were once though to be toxic, but further study has shown that they aren’t. I often add a sprig or two of tomato leaves when I’m making sauce b/c it enhances the tomatoey flavor to the sauce.

      I am actually more leery of feeding my chickens soy and other legumes than I would potatoes. And as for sweet potatoes being safe b/c they’re of the morning glory family, it’s also a very toxic family, so theoretically, if nightshades are unsafe, morning glories would be even more so.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Faith Veley on January 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

        Thanks, Suzy. More for me to think about. Faith.

        to Faith Veley's comment

  24. dmdezigns on January 11, 2014 at 8:24 am

    I think it really depends on the animal. My old arthritic pug can’t handle outside unless it’s between 65 and 75 degrees lol. My other 2 dogs spend a lot of time outside but since we live in the deep south, the crazy cold we had last week was more than they could handle. They don’t have thick winter coats because we don’t get that kind of winter here. It was 50 degrees the week before then all of a sudden single digits with below 0 wind chill. I’ve got a dog house with some insulation but it’s not enough for that temperature in our situation. That’s part of why I think it depends, how cold is it? How much colder weather have they been exposed to? Are these temperatures normal for the breed and their purpose (ie working cattle dogs, etc). I don’t think every dog needs to be an inside dog although some breeds were intented to be. I wish we could all let people be without being so quick to judge. You’re right, your animals seem just fine and just being outside doesn’t mean they’re being neglected or abused. Down here in GA though, everything that breathes needed some extra shelter last week when those unusual temps came in.

    Reply to dmdezigns's comment

  25. Kathie on January 11, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I loved this article! I think society is turned upside down with people treating animals as human children.

    And I love that photo of Sweets, so beautiful!!

    Reply to Kathie's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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