The state’s top animal welfare officer is encouraging residents to keep pets safe as the state weathers a brutal cold snap.

With temperatures in single digits during the day and descending below zero at night, residents should not hesitate to call local police or animal control officers to report pets left chained outside or abandoned, said Liam Hughes, director of the state’s animal welfare program.

Hughes said his office has received dozens of reports from residents statewide, since the onset of freezing winds and low temperatures that began a few days before Christmas. Officials haven’t yet compiled totals on the number of calls that resulted in animals being rescued, he said.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures are expected to hover below 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the Bangor area until precipitation and a high of 19 degrees comes on Wednesday. Temperatures will drop back down toward zero by next weekend.

“This harsh weather is very difficult for all animals so it is a good idea to take every effort to make sure animals are warm and secure,” Hughes said. “The best way for them to maintain their proper body temperature is for them to be properly fed and watered and properly sheltered.”

Hughes’ statement came on the same day, Friday, that Franklin County sheriffs seized nine beagles, including three puppies, after they were left without food and frozen water in a Freeman Township garage with temperatures recorded around 14 degrees below zero (negative 25 degrees Celsius).

The dogs were taken to the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Farmington where staff says they are in good condition.

Bangor police received two reports on Friday of dogs left in vehicles. Animal Control Officer Trisha Bruen determined no remedial action needed to be taken, Bangor police Sgt. Kevin MacLaren said.

Local police and sheriffs are generally happy to take animal hazard reports, MacLaren said.

“We can go check animals, speak with the owners and, if it gets to that point, we can charge them with cruelty to animals,” MacLaren said Saturday. “Some places don’t have ACOs and some do. We have one, but we will cover it when she can’t.”

The animal cruelty charge is a Class D offense that carries a jail sentence of up to 364 days incarceration and a $2,000 fine. The state lists local animal control officers and shelters here.

Owners can keep their animals outdoors in the frigid cold but should take precautions to ensure that their shelters protect them properly, Hughes said.

A proper shelter is out of the wind and snow and has some way of retaining or providing heat. Hughes recommends using straw for bedding, not towels or blankets.

“If you put a blanket in there, it can retain water and become a sheet of ice,” he said.

Wood shavings can also suffice and be purchased at most pet or general stores. Avoid fiberglass or other home-insulation materials.

Animal owners can follow a simple rule for protecting pets: when in doubt, get them out of the cold. Owners that lack housing for pets should contact local veterinarians, animal shelters, ACOs or their neighbors for help, Hughes said.

“Maine is a great state for neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.

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