Winter at the Sanctuary

By David Dickson

When it comes to staying toasty and comfy during the winter, sometimes a bit of trial and error is required to find what works best for the animals. Last winter, for example, one of the goats at Best Friends tried wearing a jacket to stay warmer and the other goats sprinted away at full speed. (Talk about a fashion disaster.)

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Caregiver Ronnie with Monty and Phil

"We about caused a stampede," jokes Best Friends horse manager Jen Reid. So, when this winter rolled around and one of the older goats at the Sanctuary needed a little extra help against the cold, caregivers knew from experience that jackets weren’t the best solution. What they tried instead became an instant hit among all the goats: straw bale houses.

As far as the goats are concerned, these new winter getaways are the coolest thing since sliced apples. While the goats already had shelter from the elements, these cozy straw bale homes now offer an extra-snug place to hunker down.

A variety of solutions

Goats aren’t the only animals at Best Friends who enjoy straw bale houses. Over at rabbits, they’ve used a smaller version for years. Rabbit bale houses only require three straw bales, cleverly arranged, with a small sheet of plastic covering the back. The rabbits love the things. "It’s good for their teeth, it keeps them warm, and they get to tunnel through them," explains rabbit caregiver Kristen Power.

Not all the animals at the Sanctuary need or even want straw houses, however. Consider the horses. They don’t require much at all, other than some shelter to get out of the elements. More often than not, though, they prefer to stand outside in the snow.

The cats are another group who don’t need or want much in the way of winter preparations. They have year-round indoor/outdoor access and plenty of comfy igloos and other hideouts. For them, the main shift when the weather turns chilly is the swap from cotton to fleece blankets.

As for the dogs, who also have indoor/outdoor access, some of their outside houses are lined with straw in the winter, while the inside part of their play areas is stashed with extra blankets. Other than that, it’s playtime as usual. Dogs know how to romp around after a good snowstorm as much as anybody.

In similar fashion, pig houses are also lined with straw.

From heating pads to hot tubs

At Wild Friends, the wildlife part of the Sanctuary, a popular technique is to place heating pads under the straw in the little igloos and houses for all the birds. In the bird ponds, as well as the water troughs set out for wildlife, small electric warmers ensure the surface never ices over. The mink, however, take the cake with their heated winter swimming tubs. Nothing quite like a Jacuzzi to keep the winter doldrums away.

At the Parrot Garden, the walls of the outdoor flights are fitted with clear plastic sheeting in winter. This way, the birds can still see the world outside and continue to show off their striking good looks to the visiting wildlife.

From parrots to cats and dogs, one simple strategy Sanctuary-wide for beating the chills is to provide sweaters for the animals who will leave them on.

In the end, whether it’s a heated water dish, a hand-knit sweater, or a luxury winter condo built out of straw bales (eat your heart out, three little pigs), at Best Friends, winter for the animals is simply one more happy turn of the seasons.

The animals’ Wish List

In addition to winter supplies, there are other items on the animals’ Wish List. Can you help? Please take a look at what the Sanctuary animals need to make their lives better.

Photos by Gary Kalpakoff