Does it qualify as animal cruelty to leave your dog outside during the winter? The answer ultimately depends on whether any harm comes to your animal. To avoid animal cruelty charges, you need to keep your animals safe and free from harm.

On Leaving Pets Outside in Winter

When it comes to leaving pets outside in the winter, Colorado law addresses the issue in terms of what constitutes animal cruelty. To commit animal cruelty, you don’t specifically have to be torturing an animal. The language in Colorado’s statute regarding animal cruelty mentions “criminal negligence,” which means the negligent party didn’t perceive a risk, circumstance, or consequence that a “reasonable” person would perceive.

Colorado’s statute C.R.S. 18-9-202 states that someone has committed animal cruelty if he or she “allows [an animal] to be housed in a manner that results in chronic or repeated serious physical harm.” Of leaving animals outside, the statute specifically says it’s also animal cruelty not to provide your pet with “protection from the weather.” The law further elaborates on “serious physical harm,” defining it as circumstances that could lead to death, that lead to maiming (permanent or temporary,) or that lead to serious physical pain.

On Leaving Pets at Home Alone

When traveling during the winter, you may choose to leave your pet alone inside your house instead. In this instance, someone who commits cruelty to an animal “fails to provide it with proper food, drink, or protection from the weather.” Whether indoors or outdoors, animals need to have access to food and drink, though the law doesn’t specify how or when the food and drink should be administered. The food and drink requirements just need to be “consistent with the species, breed, and type of animal involved.”

Keep in mind that the law also talks about “having the charge or custody of any animal,” which could include your pet sitter or you acting as a pet sitter for someone else.

On the Consequences of the Law

The law doesn’t specifically say you need to provide an animal with a type of shelter outdoors (which some state laws assert), or that they have to go inside after a certain amount of time. Because the requirements for different species and breeds of pets (the statute specifically mentions cats and dogs) vary so much, it’s up to investigators to prove that negligence and harm happened.

Cruelty to animals qualifies as a class 1 misdemeanor, which can bring a fine between $500 to $5,000, and between 6 to 18 months in jail. The court, as advised by a veterinarian, can rule that the animal is in enough pain or is so severely mutilated that it needs to be euthanized.

The bottom line is not to push the limits of this animal cruelty law. If your dog loves the snow, by all means, let him or her romp around in it for a while. Just make sure you keep an eye on your pets so they don’t suffer from cold temperatures or harsh weather. If you’re headed on vacation, hire a pet sitter or take your animal to a pet hotel. It’s cheaper than the fine for a misdemeanor.

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