As an extreme cold warning sweeps Winnipeg, the city's animals with no place to live are desperately trying to keep warm.
For many, that means compromising safety without knowing it. Within one month, Winnipeg animal rescue centre D'Arcy's A.R.C. has taken in three cats, including Stitch and Gunther, who were left with serious injuries after they tried to save themselves from the cold.
Stitch, a green-eyed, grey tabby cat was sleeping in his bed when D'Arcy Johnston, CEO and owner of D'Arcy's A.R.C., visited him on Saturday.
The cat had a cone on his head to prevent him from licking a raw, circular wound — what remains of 50 stitches that spanned to his tail when his back was sewn together one month ago.
Outside and freezing, Stitch had climbed near a car's engine to keep warm in December. The driver then turned the key in the ignition, tearing the six-month-old cat apart with the fan belt.
Johnston said Stitch's story is not rare; Winnipeg's nearly 50,000 homeless animals regularly try to keep warm — and get hurt — that way.
"So when you come out in the morning, if you don't pound on your hood the animal will stay in the car," he said, noting he expects Stitch to make a full recovery.
"He's young, he's adorable, he's responding well to his medication and to his treatment, he's purring in my arms right now. So, he'll get home no problem."
But the story would have ended differently had Stitch not been taken in by the centre, which struggles to stay open, operating on donations and profits from retail only.
"[The wound] would have become a huge infection and then he'd eventually die out there, lonely and freezing," Johnston said.
A large, grey street cat hid from those in the centre on Saturday, his eyes barely open.
"He's thawing out," Johnston said, before the cat crawled toward people, looking for attention.
"He's had a home at one time and somebody has thrown him out."
In temperatures that drop to –35 C, cats' eyes, which are wet, freeze and ice forms on their eyelashes.
"In this type of weather, the animals can't survive," Johnston said.
"But, they're going to find a heat source … When they're sleeping in a dryer vent in a snowbank, they may freeze to the snowbank then they can't move so they have to be chipped out of there."
The animals then have to warm up, and those caring for them must wait to see what parts of their bodies will fall off, Johnston said, noting he expects Gunther to lose both ears.
Ears, feet, tails
The body parts hurt the worst by the cold are animals' ears, feet and tails, Johnston said.
"Frostbite is huge at this time of year," he said.
"One year we had a collection of ears just sitting in the jar because every day you'd walk in and there would be an ear lying in the kennel."
What Johnston calls Winnipeg's "huge over-population problem" only makes the situation worse, he said.
"These animals are seeking cover and warmth … and parts of them are freezing. Their feet are freezing in the snow," he said.
"That's pretty painful."
Even animals who do have homes can suffer in the cold, Johnston said. That happens most frequently when people take their dogs for walks and the pads under the dogs' feet freeze.
Easy to prevent
In January, D'Arcy's A.R.C. has taken in 30 animals and a number of them are in what Johnston calls the "thaw period."
But, these situations are preventable.
"You're outside, you're taking your dog for a walk, you're bundling up. Your animals need to be dressed appropriately as well," Johnston said.
"Don't leave your animal outside. People think, 'Well, cats like to be outside.' Well, I'm sorry. At –35 C, no one wants to be outside."