As a brand-new dog owner, I have to admit I was nervous about taking my 8-week-old puppy outside to relieve himself in the middle of the night. My yard was dark, snow-covered, and my phone told me it was 16 degrees outside. How would a 4-pound puppy do in such extreme weather?

I've heard the phrase "if you're cold, they're cold", and I knew I was FREEZING. Luckily, Arthur (cute name, right?), seemed to pay no mind to the frozen grass under his feet and actually wanted to play with me instead of making yellow snow. Admittedly, we were only outside for a few minutes - but what about dog owners who leave their animals outside for longer periods of time... and when does it become illegal?

Look at this face! Would YOU want him outside in the freezing night? (Jonah)
Look at this face! Would YOU want him outside in the freezing night? (Jonah)

It's suggested that small dogs, like Arthur, stay indoors except when necessary (hello bathroom break) when temps dip below freezing. This expands to most other dogs as well when it gets down below 20 degrees. Those are suggestions, but what about the law?

The letter of the law in New York State

Luckily, they're pretty straightforward, and largely revolve around the "if you're cold, they're cold" philosophy, meaning that the written guidelines seem to treat domestic animals like... insert sarcastic gasp here... living things! Section 353-B from the New York senate states:

Any person who owns or has custody or control of a dog that is left outdoors shall provide it with shelter appropriate to its breed, physical condition and the climate.

Seems simple enough, but there are some details worth investigating. First, the law seems to allow for the fact that all dogs, like people, are different. For example, my brother-in-law's Husky absolutely loves the cold and has to be coaxed with treats and sometimes even carried inside when the temperature drops. That would clearly not be the case if you owned, let's say, a hairless Chihuahua. Lesson: you may be able to leave your Alaskan canine outside longer with minimal protection from the elements, whereas a short-haired toy breed would probably need insulation and central heating in their dog house. Second, the law touches on other weather situations.

There can be a fine line between winter fun and danger from the cold (Mia Anderson)
There can be a fine line between winter fun and danger from the cold (Mia Anderson)

Don't forget, harsh weather isn't just cold. Extreme heat is also a danger to our four-legged friends. New York law states that dogs may not be confined or tied in an area that does not allow access to shade. As the legislation states,

For dogs that are restrained in any manner outdoors, [they should have access to] shade by natural or artificial means to protect the dog from direct sunlight at all times when exposure to sunlight is likely to threaten the health of the dog.

So, in short, the two things to remember are breed and season. If you plan on leaving your dog outdoors for an extended period of time, make sure they have appropriate shelter provided with the current weather being taken into consideration. Violators of this law will incur a first-time fine of $50-$100, a subsequent fine between $100-$250, and additional fines every 3 days if the animal owners haven't corrected their shelters. They also risk losing custody of their pets.

If you see an animal that you believe is in danger or distress due to inappropriate outdoor housing, you can call 911 or your local animal control office.

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