Precautions can be life-saving

Thursday, January 7, 2010
Pepperz, a young tabby owned by T-G blogger Steve Mills, tries to catch the goldfish living beneath the ice in the family pond. Luckily for Peppez, there was a bowl of unfrozen water for her to drink. Luckily for the goldfish, Pepperz doesn't know how to icefish. you should check the water for outdoor pets several times a day to make sure it has not frozen over. (Photo by Steve Mills)

Bedford County isn't the Deep South, but it is the South, and only sees extremely low temperatures once in a blue moon.

On New Year's Eve, there was a blue moon, and ever since, we've been struggling to get out of the teens after sunrise. Bitterly cold weather marched in and brought all of its complications -- higher heating bills, threats of snow, and health and safety hazards for humans and animals alike.

"Winter can be a beautiful time of year in Middle Tennessee, but it can also bring quiet dangers such as brutally cold temperatures," said Red Cross Heart of Tennessee Chapter CEO Greg King, "Everyone, especially senior citizens and children, should take precautions to guard against hypothermia this winter, and the Red Cross can help."

Severely cold weather may cause hypothermia, a serious condition that predominantly affects young children and people over the age of 60. Symptoms of hypothermia include: confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.

The Red Cross offers these tips to stay safe this winter:

Protect Yourself

* Dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, which will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat.

* Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.

* Most of your body heat is lost through your head. Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.

* Seek medical attention immediately if you have symptoms of frostbite including: Flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or skin that appears waxy.

* Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.

* Remove wet clothes immediately and help warm your core body temperature by wrapping yourself in a blanket or drinking warm fluids like hot cider or soup.

* Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

* Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol if you think you might have hypothermia or frostbite.

Protect Yourself at Home

* Be careful with candles -- Do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.

* Inspect fireplaces and wood stoves yearly -- Use a sturdy fire screen with lit fires. Burn only wood -- never burn paper or pine boughs.

* Use generators correctly -- Never operate a generator inside your home, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home's wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator.

* Prevent frozen pipes -- When the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes. Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe -- even at a trickle -- helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing. Keep the thermostat set to a consistent temperature.

* Check smoke alarms -- Make sure alarms are working properly and replace batteries as necessary.

* Be aware of overuse of electrical outlets -- Don't overload your electrical outlets. Be careful that extension cords don't create hazardous walkways.

Pet perils

Humans aren't the only ones threatened by the severe cold, and most humans can ask for help if they need it. Outdoor pets, on the other hand, don't have that option.

"We're getting calls from concerned people about pets being left outside with no shelter or inadequate shelter," said Kimberly Warren of the Bedford County Humane Association. "A lot of people will have just a two-sided lean-to or a barrel with a end cut out, and they need more than that.

"We try to help people who can't afford pet shelters."

Brenda Goodrich at the Bedford County Animal Shelter said the pet's shelter needs to be four-sided and filled with warm bedding, such as straw. She said they, too, have been getting more calls about animal welfare.

"I think when it's cold, people are more aware of those animals tied up in someone's back yard," said Goodrich. "We have to go investigate."

Water is critical, said Warren.

"They can live without food longer than they can live without water," said Warren. "It's important to keep it from being frozen. I don't think people realize how fast it freezes. It needs to be checked several times a day."

She said Humane Association officials have been met with hostility when making requested welfare checks, but assure pet owners they are only concerned about the pet's welfare.

"We don't want to take their pets away, we just want to help them take care of their pets," she said.

Food is also important in keeping animals healthy in cold weather and Goodrich recommends upping your pets' meal rations for the duastion.

"That's how they stay warm -- by eating and drinking," she said. "They generate heat when they eat."

At, the ASPCA offers some cold weather tips for cat and dog owners. Some of those include

* Bang on the hood of your vehicle before starting it. In cold weather, cats, possums and even raccoons have been known to curl up inside the engine area, drawn by the warmth of the block from the last time you drove it. Banging on the hood can scare the animal off -- and save you a grisly mess and hefty repair bill.

* Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm--dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.

* Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. It can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking its paws, and its paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.n Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.

* Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center more information.