With the start of winter today, animal-welfare officials encourage pet owners to take these precautions during cold weather, because dogs and cats can...

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With the start of winter today, animal-welfare officials encourage pet owners to take these precautions during cold weather, because dogs and cats can suffer from frostbite, get lost in their search for a warm shelter, or even freeze to death:


• Keep pets indoors, particularly when temperatures drop to 30 degrees or below.


• If a pet must be kept outside, provide an elevated house with clean, dry bedding and a flap over the opening, or add a dog door to the garage with a soft cushion in the warmest corner.


• Check regularly to make sure drinking water is not frozen.


• Feed outdoor pets more, as they need more calories to produce body heat.


• Wipe the pet’s feet when they come back in to prevent frostbite between the pads of their feet.


• Keep antifreeze, salt and other household poisons away from pets.


Holiday helpers


Mercy Corps, the Portland-based humanitarian-aid organization, is promoting Mercy Kits as a way for people to give charitable gifts rather than traditional ones.


Mercy Kits help needy families in places the agency works. All kits include a personalized card noting that a friend, family member or co-worker has made a donation to a specific Mercy Corps humanitarian program in the recipient’s name.


Among the kits, which range in price from $18 to $200, are the $50 Peace Kit that helps rebuild damaged hospitals and schools; the $35 School Lunch Kit that will feed 17 children in one of the 35 countries where Mercy Corps operates, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan; and the $40 Women’s Small Business Starter Kit that helps women entrepreneurs start or expand their own business.


Mercy Corps offers more than a dozen different Mercy Kits through its Web site: www.mercycorps.org


Can you help?


Donations to Northwest Harvest, which supplies free food to 300 food banks and meal programs across the state, are down more than 20 percent from this time last year, just as food banks are expecting record numbers of people during the Christmas holiday, said agency spokeswoman Maria Lamarca Anderson.


About one-third of the food network’s annual contributions typically comes during this month, she said. The agency hopes to raise $1.4 million by the end of this month to stay within its budget.


Anderson said Northwest Harvest relies solely on contributions from individuals, businesses, foundations and other organizations and does not receive any city, county, state or federal funding. Cash donations may be sent to Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank, P.O. Box 12272, Seattle, WA 98102, or call Northwest Harvest at 800-722-6924.


Here & Now is compiled by Seattle Times staff reporter Charles E. Brown and news assistant Suesan Whitney Henderson. To submit an item, e-mail herenow@seattletimes.com or call 206-464-2226.