JOPLIN, Mo. —
When I moved to Joplin last November, I was prepared for extreme winter weather. Having lived in Southwest Missouri a few years ago, I'm familiar with the damage that ice and snow can cause in this region.
Last winter we avoided that for the most part. It was pretty mild. Save for that random May snowfall, the weather was better than I expected in this part of the state.
Then, as if right on cue, Mother Nature took a toll last week on the nice weather.
Brutal cold, icy roads and a wind chill that has not been seen here in ages bore down on Joplin. Despite cranking up the heat, I was still cold inside of my apartment. My dog, Cami, spent a good portion of her time snuggled up on my couch inside of an afghan.
But during our retreat to my fortress of warmth, my thoughts started to turn to the animals outdoors.
We have a couple of stray cats that wander around my apartment complex -- my dog lets me know every time they walk past the window -- and I've seen them crawl under cars. I've seen them disappear into the trees to escape the wind, only to emerge the next day to scrounge for food.
It's the same thing I have seen north of town where dogs populate the sparsely occupied areas. They are fighting a losing battle against the elements.
I can't save them all. I can't bring them into my home. I'm not going to even begin to kid myself that that is an option.
If I come across a dog that's approachable, I pull over and see if it has identification. More often than not these wandering dogs don't have ID, but I have to try to get them home. I've taken a few dogs with tags to animal shelters in hopes of putting them back in their homes. I shutter to think that they were abandoned by someone with no compassion.
At my apartment, I put out food when I can. I also put out a bowl of warm water, which hopefully lasts a little bit longer against the elements. The meager bowl of food I put out during the night is usually empty by the next day -- I like to think there is a cat out there that has it a little bit better than before.
I'm not doing a lot in the grand scheme of things, but at least it's something. Cami was lucky -- she got adopted from a shelter into her forever home. I know there are a lot of pets at local shelters right now that are waiting anxiously for their chance to move into a new home. I also realize the plight of the animals that are outdoors and haven't found their way into a shelter or a new home -- those are the ones that cross my mind most often.
Keep your pets safe this winter. Be proactive in helping our four-legged friends, indoors and out.
Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 417-627-7363.