The cold winter weather has finally arrived — even if it is a bit on and off — and a south Jersey animal welfare group is urging pet owners: Bring your animals inside.

Shore Animal Control in Seaville, which works with police in Cape May County cases of animal abuse, has issued a warning about the cold. The center said the weather makes it difficult for its staff members to do foot patrols — but during recent cold nights that saw temperatures in the 20s, they have responded to many calls in regard to Lower Township's new ordinance that prohibits animals from being left "chained or tethered" outside between sundown and sunrise. Violators face fines between $100 to $1,000.

The center's owner, Dr. Nick Holland, said "older pets and short hair pets should have limited time outside, such as 10 minutes during these extreme temperatures."

The center reported a recent case of a dog freezing to death in Middle Township after its owner let it outside but he fell asleep. In Lower Township, a short-hair labrador was found in a  yard with a frozen bowl of water.

"Please make sure your animals are warm and safe, and report any pets left outdoors in cold weather conditions. We will be enforcing with Police assistance," wrote the center on its Facebook page.

Reports of animals being left outdoors in the bitter cold are statewide. The Associated Humane Societies Newark shelter reported 26 dogs being brought in, including a dog that was left tied to a tree for 48 hours and tangled in its leash. In another case, 3 dogs were tied outside and were too thin to be protected from the elements .

The Humane Society urges anyone seeing a pet left outside during the cold — or extreme heat in summer — to contact law enforcement. Cape May County residents can call the Center at 800-351-1822.

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