pet law
When temperatures dip below freezing, pets should not be outdoors for more than 30 minutes.

By Jaimie Julia Winters

One of the most common forms of animal cruelty involves cases of animals left outside in dangerous weather, according to the National Humane Society.

A misconception is that their fur will insulate them from the cold, but without proper shelter, food and water, domesticated animals’ chances of survival in frigid temperatures is greatly decreased, said Humane Society officials.

Since the passage of a 2017 law signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie, it is illegal to keep an animal outside in temperatures below 32 or above 90 — or in other bad weather including wind, rain, snow, ice, sleet, hail, as well as in other dangerous situations including direct sunlight or on hot surfaces that reasonable people would know could be a risk for the animal’s health.

Montclair Township Animal Shelter Director Liz Morgan said only one complaint was filed with the township over concern for an animal during the most recent cold snap when temperatures dropped into the single digits.

“A dog was left in a car, but it's an open case, still under investigation,” said Morgan.

In New Jersey, it’s also against the law to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle “under inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature,” in other words, when outside conditions are extremely cold or hot. The general rule of thumb is if it’s too cold for you, then it’s too cold for an animal, said officials.

An owner who violates the 30-minute law or the unattended-pet-in-car requirement could be subject to a fine, imprisonment, community service, ordered to pay restitution and/or possibly have his or her animal seized.

But cold can affect some pets at 40 degrees. The smaller the pet and the shorter the hair, the more susceptible to the cold they are.


  • Report what you see: Take notes of the date, time, exact location and the type of animal involved and write down as many details as possible about the situation. Video and photographic documentation of the animal, the location, the surrounding area, etc. will help bolster your case.
  • Contact your local animal control agency or police and present your complaint and evidence. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied.


  • Keep your pets inside with you and your family. For feral cats, heated cat shelters are available on
  • If your dog is outdoors much of the day for any reason, they must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to move comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches from the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.
  • Use plastic food and water bowls; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
  • Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during extreme cold snaps. Short-haired dogs often feel more comfortable wearing a sweater — even during short walks.
  • Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates their mouth.
  • Dogs are at particular risk of salt poisoning in winter due to the rock salt used in many areas — often when licking it from their paws after a walk.
  • Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up any antifreeze spills immediately.
  • Cars are one of many hazards to small animals — warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.