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Lost pets struggle in subzero temperatures

BISMARCK, N.D.--Since the beginning of December, 17 dogs and cats have been reported missing in Bismarck, according to Missy Hilsendeger, animal control warden at the Bismarck-Mandan Animal Impound Facility.

On Tuesday Missy Hilsendeger, animal control warden, shows the frost bitten paws of a Syimese kitten recently rescued from the winter elements and the sub-zero temperatures and now at the Bismarck-Mandan Animal Impound Facility. Bismarck Tribune photo
On Tuesday Missy Hilsendeger, animal control warden, shows the frost bitten paws of a Syimese kitten recently rescued from the winter elements and the sub-zero temperatures and now at the Bismarck-Mandan Animal Impound Facility. Bismarck Tribune photo

BISMARCK, N.D.-Since the beginning of December, 17 dogs and cats have been reported missing in Bismarck, according to Missy Hilsendeger, animal control warden at the Bismarck-Mandan Animal Impound Facility.

These animals have disappeared during a string of record-beating winter storms - some lasting for days, bringing blustery winds and frigid temperatures. So far, the area has seen 53.1 inches of snow this winter season, and the Bismarck Public Works Department is still working to dig the city out of the latest snowfall.

"Usually, we don't have a problem locating (missing pets). They don't go into the deep snow, especially with the cold. ... They usually try to huddle down around houses," Hilsendeger said.

Bismarck Animal Control has been successful returning some of the animals, she said.

A chocolate Labrador retriever, missing since Dec. 21, was returned to its family last week. The dog had been lost for more than a week when it showed up at someone's house, and the residents were able to coax it into their garage and call the animal impound facility, Hilsendeger said. All four of the dog's paws were frostbitten.

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Hilsendeger urges residents, that if a dog or cat goes missing in this weather, call Animal Control immediately.

"Contact us, call in. We have a lost-and-found log that we keep, so if we do happen to pick up an animal we can cross-reference that," she said.

The most important thing owners can do is put tags on their pets, she added.

With temperatures dipping below zero for most of the week, Hilsendeger said people should keep their pets in the house and monitor them when they're outside.

"With being as cold as it is, especially this week coming up with the highs being barely above zero, your animal shouldn't be out for any length of time," said Hilsendeger, adding it doesn't take long for animals to get frostbit.

"Do you want to know how fast the paws are going to freeze? Put your hand on concrete, put your hand on the ground and see how fast it takes your hand to get cold," Hilsendeger said.

Animals in this cold weather and deep snow can get disoriented and wander off, becoming unfamiliar with their surroundings, according to Hilsendeger. There are three animal wardens who will go out when a call comes in, but she said, if someone sees a dog or cat wandering around, keep an eye on it until Animal Control arrives.

"They call it in and then they drive off, so by the time we get there, especially if it's across town, it doesn't take a dog long to disappear," she said. "Keep an eye on it. If they're comfortable with trying to catch it, great; if the dogs turns and starts growling at them, by all means we don't want them getting bit. But if the dog is willing to jump in their car, get them in your car and we'll come and get them."

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Mandy Schaff, volunteer and special events coordinator for the Central Dakota Humane Society, agrees frostbite is a risk for animals.

"They can lose the tips of their ears in cold like this. When we have our animals out in the extreme cold, it's for a limited time. We have gotten reports from the public of cats frozen to the driveway," she said.

One volunteer who walks dogs brings them booties to fight the cold, she said.

Reporter LeAnn Eckroth contributed to this report.

Related Topics: WEATHER
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