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Shelter for Outdoor Animals

Updated: Jan 30, 2019

For a child, a snow day is the best news one could hope for on a wintry Monday morning, but for an outdoor pet, it means another day outside, trying to stay warm when dry, cold winds, snow and ice are are beating at your back. Even with a dog house, it may not be enough to keep the elements at bay. There is no state law in Michigan that requires pets to be brought inside a home, but there are very specific requirements about dog houses and shelter.

Let's talk about MCL 7.50.50. This is Act 328 of 1931 of the Michigan Penal Code that an Animal Enforcement Office will hold all pet owners accountable to.

Section 2 (a) states that an owner, possessor, or person having the charge or custody of an animal will not fail to provide "Adequate care", which means the provision of sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise, and veterinary medical attention in order to maintain an animal in a state of good health.

Focusing on the requirement for shelter, the law defines adequate shelter as one of two options:

  • A doghouse that is an enclosed structure with a roof and of appropriate dimensions for the breed and size of the dog. The doghouse shall have dry bedding when the outdoor temperature is or is predicted to drop below freezing.

  • A structure, including a garage, barn, or shed, that is sufficiently insulated and ventilated to protect the dog from exposure to extreme temperatures or, if not sufficiently insulated and ventilated, contains a doghouse as provided under subparagraph (ii) that is accessible to the dog.

In many cases, specifically breeds that are known to enjoy winter weather (Huskies, Malamutes, Shepherds), a dog house is provided but the dog is choosing to stay outside of it, sometimes even laying in the snow.

In other cases, the dog house is inadequate and does not meet the minimum standards defined in the law, or there is no shelter at all.

If you see a pet outside without adequate shelter in conditions that could have harmful impact on the health of the animal, please contact your local animal services department. The state law clearly defines the requirement for shelter for animals. It is a misdemeanor offense to fail to provide adequate care.

This same law does apply to cats and other domestic mammals (not livestock), however many outdoor cats aren't owned, and therefore no one can be held responsible for providing them shelter. Some cat owners will leave the garage door open just a bit, or provide a cat door for them to come and go as they choose.

Good Samaritans will also make simple cat houses for feral and stray cats to warm up in the winter. These houses can be made of simple materials, and are easily cleaned and maintained. Check out this great how-to guide by Alley Cat Advocates to make your own winter cat house!

Outdoor winter cat house
Make this cat house and help save a life this winter!
Livestock are only required to have a windbreak, which could be as simple as a tree line along the pasture, or a basic lean-to structure. Some livestock owners will feed different blends of food seasonally, and those with senior horses, or horses with special health concerns may be blanketed, but livestock generally do not need or require much shelter, even in winter months.

In Kalamazoo County, concerned citizens should contact Kalamazoo County Animal Services & Enforcement. Those outside of Kalamazoo County are encouraged to contact your local Animal Control department, or Sheriff Department for concerns about the health or well-being of animals.

For a list of animal control agencies in southwest Michigan, check them out on our website:

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