Winter has ripped through the Midwest in the form of wind chills and inches of snow even leading to record-setting temperatures in Indianapolis. The weather has even been blamed for nine deaths across the U.S. last week. Now, many states are passing stronger laws to ensure that furry friends are protected.

All states have animal cruelty laws, but many do not have provisions about leaving pets out in the cold.

Phil Peckinpaugh, director of the Muncie Animal Shelter, said that Indiana’s laws are vague when it comes to people neglecting their pets.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a list of general tips on what to do for a pet during cold weather here.

“Indiana is definitely not the worst state as far as protection laws for animals, but it’s definitely not one of the best either,” Peckinpaugh said.

While the the Indiana State Board of Animal Health outlines criminal offenses relating to neglect, abandonment, abuse and cruelty of animals, it does not directly refer to any weather-related animal neglect or abuse. 

Peckinpaugh said the shelter tried to pass an ordinance two years ago that would make it an offense in Muncie to leave pets outside in mainly very cold weather. However, he said the ordinance was unable to get a hearing through city council.

“For whatever reason, animal protection laws are a little bit of a hard thing to get through sometimes,” Peckinpaugh said.

He said that the shelter will continue to uphold in-place ordinances that to ensure that the cruelty and neglect of an animal will not be tolerated in the Muncie or Delaware County area.

According to the Muncie Animal Care and Control ordinance, there are several qualifications to make sure that the treatment of an animal is humane including:

  • Cleanliness
  • Provision of food and water
  • Having an adequate structure that is dry and sanitary

“The reason why we are so outraged, which is true for almost all of our animal welfare concerns, stems originally from our natural anthropomorphism," said Alan Beck, the director of the center for the human-animal bond at Purdue University. "We tend to look at the world from our point of view."

Beck said that humans unconsciously project their own feelings onto an animal in a distressed environment. On top of that, people also associate pets more as members of the family and less as property.

“If you see an animal shivering and freezing to death, it’s not so terrible to say, ‘I don’t like that.' I wouldn’t like that,” Beck said. “We did a lot of studies that show how we relate to animals is somewhat like how we relate to each other.”

Lisa Marsh, the volunteer intake and adoption coordinator at the Muncie Animal Rescue Fund (ARF) said that the ordinance in place is not specific enough to ensure the protection of animals. 

“It’s just unacceptable, in my opinion, that we don’t have an ordinance that better protects our animals,” Marsh said.

ARF has no legal powers if an animal is abused or neglected and must refer any problems to the Muncie Animal Shelter.

If Muncie Animal Care & Services, a branch of the shelter that provides animal control services, is notified an animal does not have proper food, water or shelter, it will do a welfare check to assess the situation.

If dogs are left outside during colder temperatures, and Muncie Animal Care is notified, it will remove the dog and bring it to the Muncie Animal Shelter if they believe the dog is lacking proper shelter.

Despite the difficulties with the ordinance, Marsh said that ARF is working on gathering information to approach city council to change the ordinance in the future.

“I think we would just have a better community overall if we could get this passed,” Marsh said.

Contact Andrew Harp with comments at adharp@bsu.edu or on Twitter at @retr0andrew.