Calgary

Cold, underfed livestock and pets keep Alberta SPCA busy in frigid cold

A "staggering" number of animal welfare calls kept investigators busy last month, says the Alberta SPCA.

Animal welfare officers opened 260 investigations last month — 100 more than last February

Cattle and horses, not the ones pictured, were seized by Alberta SPCA officers last month. The agency received many calls from people worried about animal welfare on the bitterly cold days. (Wild Horses of Alberta Society)

A "staggering" number of animal welfare calls kept investigators busy last month, says the Alberta SPCA.

And they're looking forward to hopefully warmer days ahead. 

February was frigid. Temperatures stayed below the freezing mark for the full four weeks for most of the province, dropping below –30 C overnight for days in some places.

That made for a challenging month for the animal welfare authority, which covers the province outside of Calgary and Edmonton.

The agency opened 260 new investigations last month, far more than in Februarys of the past four years, when the total investigations opened ranged from 140-154.

"We've been very busy," Alberta SPCA spokesperson Dan Kobe told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

The recent investigations involved more than 2,000 animals. Hundreds of those, mostly livestock, were taken into Alberta SPCA custody. Officers also seized a few dogs, cats and rabbits.

Underfed and cold

The seized animals were cold and often underfed, Kobe said.

"When it gets this cold, the animals need more feed," he said. "We've seen in the past where, obviously, it's been quite cold for a week or 10 days. What we haven't seen is this level of cold for so long."

It was the fourth coldest February in Calgary's history. The average temperature was –18.1 C. The long-term average for February is –5.4 C.

Feed prices have increased, and in some rural areas, it's hard to access, Kobe said. That makes it more difficult for owners to afford to bump up how much they give their animals.

"January was so nice. You can imagine a scenario where producers may have been hoping that the entire winter was like that, and they wouldn't have to increase their feed," Kobe said. "But I don't think anybody was expecting four consecutive weeks [of bitter cold.]."

Cattle, not the ones pictured, were not always found to be well-fed in the past month. Animals need more food to stay warm on cold days.

He asks that people keep an eye on their neighbour's fields and pastures for any animals that look thin or potentially compromised by the cold. The SPCA can send out an officer to investigate.

In some cases, the officer is able to recommend the owner make changes to help their animal, like by constructing a shelter or bringing their pet indoors.

However, some outdoor dogs refuse to come indoors. Kobe said they knew of one Great Pyrenees that, despite the frigid temperatures, wanted to stay outside.

"It didn't like going inside. It had no interest in going inside," he said. "The problem is, when it is as cold as it has been for as long as it has been, those animals do need some form of reprieve."

In many cases, though, investigators found that dogs had hidden shelter spots, like a heated cubby under a deck that wouldn't be obvious to worried passersby.

More calls to come

Investigations in rural areas can mean hours of driving for an officer, he said.

Seizures can cost thousands of dollars as the horses or cattle have to be transported, fed and housed by the agency. They often need veterinarian care, as well.

"We actually are concerned it could continue to be just as busy in March and April. Those typically are our busiest months," Kobe said.

"When the snow starts melting, you start to see what may have happened, what may have been hidden throughout the winter. We don't know if that'll be the case this time, but certainly the high call volume could continue."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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