While not everyone is in agreement that most dogs and all cats are best kept indoors, there are some basic guidelines to assure furry friends don't run into trouble as outdoor temperatures drop.
Consistency is the key to keeping pets safe from the winter cold, said Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary advisory for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and owner of Veterinary Response Inc., which is devoted to disaster preparedness and response.
If a dog is typically kept outside and has proper shelter and access to food and water, they will likely be fine during the winter months, he said. Moving a dog inside for a day or so when temperatures really take a plunge causes problems for the animal when it is placed back outside.
Indoor dogs should never be left unattended outside once the temperatures dip below freezing, Thomas said. Walks or hikes are fine as long the dogs are accompanied.
"You can use yourself as a barometer," he said.
Porter County ordinances operate along similar lines, requiring owners provide animals proper shelter from the elements and take steps to avoid neglect, said county Animal Control Officer Greg Nemeth.
The ordinance says shelter and sufficient bedding shall be provided for all dogs and cats kept outdoors when the temperature falls below 50 degrees.
"Ideally, you'd have a doghouse with straw or blankets inside," Nemeth said.
Kellogg said the doghouse should be off the ground and a barrier placed at its door. It should not be so large that the dog's body will not heat the inside area, which is why an unheated garage is nearly as dangerous for dogs as the outdoors.
It is also important to make sure the dog has access to water and that it does not freeze, he said.
"You use calories to keep your body heat up," Kellogg said.
Deborah Nowland, director of Lake County Sheriff's Animal Adoption & Control Center, said her department attempts to work out violations with dog owners.
If the problem is not corrected, the officers pursue citations and possible criminal action if necessary, she said.
Anyone concerned about the conditions of an outdoor animal can contact animal control at their county sheriff's department.