Yes, that is my dear, departed Deuce in the picture above, sleeping in the snow as happy as can be. Deuce was a Newfoundland and the cold was his thing. But, as much as he loved being in the snow and would have stayed outside in it 24/7/365 we literally MADE him come inside when it was cold cold. Plus, I never use pictures of sad, hurt dogs...it makes ME sad, so even though this is a serious subject, I have to use a dog I know did not suffer for a photo...thanks for understanding.
Most of us would have zero hesitation to smash a window or call the police if we saw a distressed dog locked in a car with windows up in the summer. Their physical danger is obvious and has been well publicized (though people still leave dogs in hot cars...sigh).
Here is a chart based on The Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) system (PDF). This nifty infographic uses several components to give a guideline as to when it is too cold for different breed/body types. The people at Pet Plan Insurance created the info graph and here is a link to their info. PET PLAN
This may be a bit tougher decision to make. You are visiting your Mom and notice that guy down the road's Lab is out in the backyard, curled up in the tightest imaginable ball inside a wooden dog house with no blanket or bedding of any sort. It's snowing, windy and the wind chill puts it at zero or below. Do you go knock on his door and tell him his dog looks cold? That could cause issues for your Mom or he may takes his annoyance out on the dog or YOU. Do you call the police or animal control? You are the only neighbor who can see into the backyard and he would know it was you or your Mom.
Why would we walk away? Possibly because the danger does not seem as immediate or we hope the people involved intends to bring the dog in soon. Or do we think the dog will be ok? He does have a fur coat, after all.
Even though they have fur coats, it may compare to use wearing a sweater outside, not swaddled in ermine. Plus, the fur on dog's paws is not thick and protective enough for sub-frigid weather. So let go of the "for coat" rationalization.
Of course, there are breeds who revel being in the snow. I am typing this and it is 15 degrees below zero and Zoe our Great Pyrenees is outside sleeping. She can come in and out as she pleases, but even Zoe gets locked in the house at night during this weather! `She may give us disapproving looks, but we tell her we can't sleep with her outside and she acquiesces. Once again, common sense.
There is a big difference in the neighbor's Malamute playing in the backyard in the snow and the Lab in the example above.
To work though some of these ethical questions and decisions I offer the following...
#1 - Does your gut tell you that dog you see in the cold is in danger? Did your stomach twist and every bit of dog lover in you want to wrap him in a blanket and bring him in?
#2 - Has the weather station issued winter alerts that literally tell you to bring all pets inside?
#3 - If still in doubt here is some info from the Humane Society of the United States. They offer free advice on when to call and what to say.
FROM THE HSUS
Report what you see: Take note of the date, time, exact location and the type of animal(s) involved and write down as many details as possible about the situation. Video and photographic documentation of the animal, the location, the surrounding area, etc. (even a cell phone photo) will help bolster your case.
Contact your local animal control agency or county sheriff's office and present your complaint and evidence. Take detailed notes regarding whom you speak with and when. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied.
If you need advice, call The HSUS or email us. Because we aren't a law-enforcement agency, we cannot take legal action, but we can provide expert counsel.
If you have pets, follow our advice for keeping them safe in cold weather.
We encourage you to contact local law enforcement agencies because pets left outside in extreme temperatures, especially without food and shelter, are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and even death. Their owners are at risk of facing criminal charges.
The act of leaving a pet outside without food or adequate shelter often receives less attention than a violent attack against an animal, but neglect is a crime. "Especially in these cold months, it is important for people to bring their pets inside and for others to report neglected animals to law enforcement,” says Ashley Mauceri, HSUS manager for cruelty response, who fields these calls.
By the way, in the example above our mythical person went over and talked to Mom's neighbor in a positive, upbeat tone and the Lab went into the house. Mom promised to keep an eye on the dog and let authorities know if he were left outside in bad weather again. Nobody got shot.