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story.lead_photo.caption A Cole County resident and his dog retrieve the trash receptacle from the bottom of the driveway amid freezing temperatures and snow Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

As humans spent the weekend hunkered inside and out of the snow as much as possible, some needed to venture out to provide necessities to the stray cats of Jefferson City.

Jackie Fischer, a member of Wild Thing Feral Feline Fix, said the cold weather can impact outdoor cats.

Wild Thing has a several insulated shelters filled with straw around the city that offer homes for strays. The largest shelter is home to 25-30 cats, she said.

"In this kind of weather, we really have to make sure that they're staying warm, going into shelters and using them, and that the water is not frozen," Fischer said. "This weather is hard on them, but so far, everybody seems to be doing OK and staying in the shelters."

Any weather 35 degrees Fahrenheit or below can be dangerous for animals, according to the Humane Society of Missouri. As such, pet owners are encouraged to bring their pets inside or provide adequately insulated shelters.

The Jefferson City Animal Shelter was closed Monday due to inclement weather after closing its outside drop-off pens over the weekend. Residents who have a stray animal they can't keep until the shelter reopens should call 573-634-6400 to connect with an animal control officer.

"The staff from the shelter are responding to calls as they would normally, including all well-being animal checks," said Lt. David Williams, public information officer with the Jefferson City Police Department. "If they are able to contact the owner, they will attempt to educate the owners to be sure they are providing the standards of care as outlined in our city code. The ultimate goal is to provide safety and education for the public as it relates to animal health."

Williams said residents should not call 911 to report animals in distress.

Even residents who don't have pets or don't see feral cats around can help keep them safe during cold weather, Fischer said.

"Sometimes when they can't get inside to a warm place, they'll come up underneath your car or your engine," she said. "Before you start your car, you should knock on it or bump the horn to make sure there's no cats underneath there."

Fischer said it's important to make sure outdoor cats have shelters, such as a garage or shed where they can hide from the weather.

Another thing cats need, she continued, is water, which can be a challenge when it's below freezing outside — water can freeze quickly and needs checked regularly.

Just like anybody else, cats also need food.

One thing Fischer does is warm up wet cat food before putting it out.

"It's just something they have warm in their bellies, and I know the cats that I feed absolutely love it — they devour it," she said.

Wet cat food includes water, which means it can also freeze, so warming it up also means it can last a little longer.

The shelters Wild Thing provides are homes to spayed and neutered cats, Fischer said. It also performs trap, neuter and returns for feral cats in the area. While some are adopted, those that aren't return to the part of town where they were originally caught.

The organization also makes shelters for people who want them up in their area.

The shelters are made out of plastic foam coolers and rubber tubs, mostly donated to the organization, she said.

In addition to providing appropriate shelters, the Humane Society of Missouri offers these tips for keeping pets safe during cold weather:

Pets should be kept from eating antifreeze that can collect on driveways and roadways, as it is lethal for animals.

Make sure to dry pets off after bringing them inside and clean any salt, sand or chemicals from their paws.

Williams stressed the same precautions of keeping pets inside if possible.

"If not possible, they should have adequate shelter where they can get out of wind and snow, bedded with straw to provide additional insulation, warming mats if possible, water that is not frozen and increase feeding to help them keep enough energy to deal with the cold temperatures," he said.

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