Dr. Jeff Mayerson plays with his 8-year-old Lab-shepherd mix Crikey as his yellow Lab Fidget, 5, chews on a shoe while playing in the basement of their Lewiston home on a recent cold afternoon. Over the past couple of weeks, Mayerson has instituted what he calls “nope” mornings for Fidget and Crikey, as in “Nope, you’re not going for a walk . . . it’s just too cold.” Instead, the dogs play inside. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — For the past couple of weeks, Jeff Mayerson has instituted what he calls “nope” mornings for his dogs Fidget and Crikey.

“Nope, you’re not going for a walk. We’re not doing anything. You’re going out, you’re going around the house, you go pee, you go poop, you come back in,” said Mayerson, a veterinarian at the Lewiston Veterinary Hospital. “It’s just too cold.”

He’s not the only pet owner who thinks so.

“The good news is, I think, people are smartening up,” Mayerson said. “We have not, luckily, seen a frostbite issue here in years. We have very few animals now that are tied outside . . . I think that’s the exception rather than the rule now.””

Although it still happens — police recently charged a Franklin County man they say abandoned his nine beagles, including three puppies, in an open, unheated garage for two days — vets and local animal welfare organizations say they’re seeing fewer pets left in dangerous weather this winter.


And when there is a problem, owners seem willing to change.

“Our department is getting a lot of calls about animals left in the cold right now,” said Liam Hughes, director of animal welfare for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “Most of the time it’s just a matter of us having a polite conversation with people, reminding them what their animals need.”

But while more families are paying attention and temperatures are expected to rise a little this week, experts say there are still things every pet owner should know.

“Not every animal is the same,” Hughes said. “A husky is very different from a Chihuahua.”

Experts say large dogs who have thick coats and are used to the cold can stand temperatures in the low teens. Other dogs shouldn’t be out long in the mid-20s.

Mayerson’s general rule: Limit dogs to 30 minutes outside when it’s about 20 degrees and limit them to 10 minutes outside when temperatures hit zero. Below zero? Just nope.


“When it reaches 20 degrees below zero at night, I don’t care who you are or what kind of hound dog you are or what kind of nose you have that you’re not supposed to contaminate by being inside, it’s not worth having them freeze,” he said.

Cats, too, can stay outside when it’s cold if they’re used to the weather and have thick coats. But when temps dip below freezing — definitely when they fall below zero — experts say even those hearty cats should be brought inside.

“If you have a litter box, they will use it,” Mayerson said. “They will eventually use the litter box and they will not demand to go out.”

And then there are farm animals.

“I have had some calls on livestock — cows and sheep and horses and all that,” said Wendall Strout, animal control officer for Greene, Leeds, Lewiston, Turner and Wales. “But they run by a little different set of rules.”

By state law, Strout said, horses must have a shelter with three sides and a waterproof roof. Cows don’t have to, he said, as long as there’s a tree line to break the wind.


Animals cannot complain about the cold, so experts say owners should supervise those that are outside in freezing temperatures. If they’re shivering or lifting up their paws, those are signs it’s time to get someplace warm. If pets balk at a walk, listen.

Owners can try putting coats or boots on dogs and cats, but many vets say coats do little to keep an animal warm in freezing and subzero weather and few pets tolerate boots.

“There are a lot of different styles and I haven’t come across a dog who likes to have them on their feet,” said Rhonda Baillargeon, a vet tech at Turner Veterinary Service.

If a pet won’t wear boots, experts recommend cleaning off the bottom of their paws once they’re inside so accumulated ice, snow and salt don’t irritate the pads of their feet. Owners can also use paw balm — a waxy mixture sold in pet stores — to moisturize their pet’s pads and protect against the damage caused by salt.

If a dog or cat must stay outside, they need extra- or high-calorie food and unfrozen water. In extreme weather, they also need a shelter that’s off the ground, has a door or other way to buffer the wind and is stuffed with straw for warmth, not blankets or towels.

“If the towels get wet, they’ll freeze, and the dog will have a block of ice to sleep on,” Hughes said.


Stray animals can be brought inside if friendly, but experts generally recommend leaving them alone and calling the local police or animal control officer for help.

“If the animal is lost, cold and hungry, he’s not going act like he would if he’s in his home and happy,” Strout said.

They also suggest considering whether a loose cat is actually a stray in need of help or an indoor/outdoor cat that has just been let outside for a few minutes.

“People scoop up these cats and bring them to the shelter as being strays when they’re actually pets,” said Michael Chaine, special enforcement officer for Auburn.

After two weeks of “nopes,” Mayerson knows Fidget, a yellow Lab, and Crickey, a Lab-shepherd mix, can get a little stir crazy. So he’s come up with a solution for that, too.

“We play fetch down the hallway,” he said.

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at ltice@sunjournal.com.

Dr. Jeff Mayerson’s 8-year-old Lab-shepherd mix Crikey bounds around in the snow at the doctor’s Lewiston home. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Dr. Jeff Mayerson plays with his 8-year-old Lab-shepherd mix Crikey as his yellow lab Fidget, 5, chews on a shoe while playing in the basement of their Lewiston home on a recent cold afternoon. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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