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Here's how to help feral cats survive the winter

Feral cats rely on kind-hearted humans to help

Feral cats rely on kind-hearted humans to help them survive the winter. Credit: Dreamstime

Q This may be a silly question, but do you know if nature gives feral cats anything special to keep them from freezing in very cold weather? I know they survive, but how?

-- Dick, Westbury

A It's not a silly question; it's a great question. I'm afraid though, there is nothing in the wild that protects feral cats from the harsh realities of winter. They don't hibernate or store food for the winter.

As domesticated animals, they are utterly dependent on humans to survive. If you're seeing feral cats in the spring, it's because some kind soul was quietly taking care of them, providing them with food, water and, most importantly, shelter from the cold.

People who want to help feral cats can provide them with winter shelters. Anyone can create a portable winter shelter by cutting a hole large enough for a cat to enter into the short side of a Styrofoam container or plastic storage bin (with lids). Then line the bottom of container with straw for warmth. Never use hay. Hay gets wet and moldy. Straw stays nice and dry and can be changed seasonally. Place this portable winter shelter in a protected area away from the wind or in locations where the cats hang out. A feral cat (or other animal) will find it and use it to survive the winter.

Q A sad story appeared in my local newspaper. A woman was convinced that her neighbor's 8-month-old puppy was escaping his yard and killing her chickens and wounding her goats. She set a trap, baited it, and when she found the puppy in it, shot him to death. The puppy's owner denies that the dog could have been capable of this type of behavior and another dog or dogs or wild animals might have been responsible. The woman who shot the dog has been charged with animal cruelty; the dog's owner has a brokenhearted young son and feels she has to move.

All of this was avoidable if each party took some responsibility for their property. Fences are not always successful in containing dogs. We have a very tall wall surrounding our yard that has deep footers. Our dogs cannot climb over or dig under this wall. A wall is expensive, but there are cheaper solutions.

When renting, we dug 4x8 foot sheets of plywood into the ground, creating a footing and a sturdy enclosure for our previous dogs. The wood was reinforced with cinder blocks sunk into the ground in front of the wood. The wood was waterproofed, and it kept our dogs safe, and our neighbors happy.

I hope someone will utilize our cheap dog enclosure, so we will not have to read about such a nightmare ever again.

-- Barbara, Tucson

A Almost every neighbor-to-neighbor pet problem can be resolved if an animal stays on and/or is restrained on their properties or kept on a leash. Keeping a dog that digs under or jumps over a fence can be challenging, but there are ways to do it. I have used chicken wire around the base of a fence to keep my dogs from digging.

Let's not lose sight that, per your recounting, a person baited a puppy they suspected might be the culprit with the intention of killing the dog. The woman should have called animal control to report the problem and taken video to prove it. What resulted was a horrible tragedy that I also hope never happens again.

Q We have a 3-year-old healthy, active black lab/shepherd mix named Tex. He absolutely loves ice cubes. Anytime I go into the freezer, he is there waiting for his treat. He gets one or two, which he promptly chews and enjoys. Any particular reason or concern regarding Tex eating ice cubes?

-- Grace, Massapequa

A Many dogs love ice cubes. They are a great no-calorie treat that satisfies their need to chew. My only caution is to make sure the ice cubes aren't too thick, like the ones that might be created from an overfilled ice tray. Only give Tex ice from half-filled trays or from an ice-maker as they tend to produce more slender ice. We don't want him cracking a tooth.

You also can drop the ice into Tex's water bowl, so the ice melts and softens a little before he chews it. Other than that, ice is a perfectly acceptable treat that makes many dogs very happy.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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