A dog that was being kept outside during some of the coldest nights in Hamilton’s history and taken from his owner by people concerned about its welfare is back in its owners possession. 

The story of Tiger, a Portuguese Fila guard dog that was being kept outside with wind chill temperatures plummeting to -38 C erupted over social media Tuesday.

Thursday, sources told CBC News that the dog was returned to his owner — a man named Milton — earlier in the day, two days after he was taken. Repeated calls to Milton's cell phone were not returned. When CBC Hamilton visited the rural Hamilton business where Tiger was previously being kept, no dog could be seen.

'He lives strictly outside, 24/7. He has a plywood house and he’s absolutely frozen.'- Jill Foote-Forsythe, neighbour

"I raised that dog, guard dog needs to be outside," the dog's owner Milton told CHCH news Tuesday.

Jill Foote-Forsythe, who lives next to the concrete forming business on Glover Road where Tiger was chained, said after the story broke a number of people came to the business to take the dog away. She believes Tiger changed hands several times since he was taken.

"So many people were at that house," she said.

The person who took Tiger from the property wouldn’t consent to a formal interview with CBC News because of worries over legal action.

In a statement, the person on Wednesday said only that Tiger was safe and warm.

“The poor dog is in fact starving, his ribs are showing and he's very thin,” the short statement read. “He's eating small amounts of food to get him back on track and drinking water.”

Living outside 24/7

Foote-Forsythe had been going onto the property to care for the dog before he was taken.

“He lives strictly outside, 24/7,” she told CBC Hamilton. “He has a plywood house and he’s absolutely frozen.”

On Monday night, Foote-Forsythe visited Tiger and found him shivering, with snow inside his roughly 3 by 2.5-foot doghouse, and no food or water, she said. She left him blankets to keep warm overnight.

She returned around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, and found him “shivering uncontrollably.” His water was frozen solid.

“He didn’t even want to come out,” she said. “He came to me and stuck to me like glue. So I bundled him up [in a warm blanket].”

According to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act standards of care, every dog that lives outdoors must:

  • Have a structurally sound enclosure to use at all times that has to be “adequate and appropriate” for the dog
  • The pen or enclosed structure “must be in a state of good repair” and offer protection from the elements, including harmful temperatures
  • The structure must be at least three metres long and let the dog move safely
  • The dog must be tied on

Foote-Forsythe said Tiger has lived on the property for about two years, since he was about 8 weeks old. “I’ll go [visit him] and he’ll be skin and bones ... in a bad condition,” she said, adding he spends his days chained up.

“I know I’m not supposed to trespass but I can’t leave him … not with my conscience,” she said.

'I don't think this breed should be left out'

Marion Emo, ‎the president and CEO of the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA, told CBC Hamilton that the SPCA responded to the initial call about Tiger and is investigating. Now that the dog has been taken, the case becomes a police matter, she says.

Hamilton police spokesperson Debbie McGreal told CBC Hamilton police haven't received any formal complaint about the dog.

"We are not currently investigating anything in regards to a stolen dog," she said.

Emo says that SPCA officers are bound by the standards of Ontario’s SPCA act, which doesn’t specifically dictate that dogs can’t be kept outside in extremely cold weather. “The standards apply to all breeds of dogs, whether they’re adaptive to cold temperatures or not.”

That means that in Ontario, the standards of shelter and care in the cold for a breed like a Husky are the same as they are for a Chihuahua.

“It’s absolutely been very cold. It’s understandable that people are concerned about the dogs outside — and that’s a good thing,” Emo said. “But we are bound by the standards in the act.”

The SPCA says it receives a “large influx of calls” from concerned people about animals being kept outside when the cold weather hits.

Dogs that don't have a heavy coat or aren’t acclimatized to the cold shouldn’t be outdoors for more than five to 10 minutes at a time, said Dr. Douglas Hall, a veterinarian at the Dundas Animal Hospital.

Upon looking at pictures of the Portuguese Fila breed, Dr. Hall said despite the dog’s large size, it has a short coat.

“I don’t think this breed should be left out,” he said.