Picture: AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Washington - Police in Hartford, Connecticut charged a woman Thursday with animal cruelty in connection with a grim scene reported by a neighbour on New Year's Day: A dog chained to a small shelter outside a home - and frozen solid.

The incident was one of several similar deaths reported in recent days as bitter cold grips the eastern United States, prompting animal rescue organisations and local authorities to issue warnings about giving pets shelter.

Several of the deaths occurred in Ohio. In Toledo, a dog was found frozen to death on a front porch last week. Three other frozen dogs were discovered over two days this week in Franklin County, Ohio, a shelter told a local television station. Authorities in Butler County, north of Cincinnati, said Wednesday that they had charged the owners of one deceased dog with cruelty to a companion animal.

"The dog was found in an outside dog house with no insulation. The dog was frozen to death due to the severe cold weather," read a Facebook post from the office of county sheriff Richard K. Jones. "Sheriff Jones would like to remind everyone that freezing to death is a horrible way for an animal to die."

In Michigan, Detroit Dog Rescue said a Pomeranian mix left outside its offices Monday night was found dead the next day. The group said on Wednesday that it managed to rescue another dog that was found cowering and shivering in a barrel outdoors - but not before its paw pads and penis got frostbite.

"Trying to escape the frigid temperatures he curled up and crouched down, but even his underbelly and penis began to freeze," Detroit Dog Rescue said about the pooch, which it called Joey, in a Facebook post. "His feet are so painful he doesn't want to stand."

With weather forecasters predicting more days of snow and brutal cold across much of the East, animal protection groups urged people to report any animals seen left outside to local law enforcement authorities.

"Dogs, cats and horses depend on our care, especially during life-threatening cold snaps. Take the animals in, or somehow provide a safe environment for them," Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement.

Several states and local jurisdictions have in recent years stepped up penalties against pet owners who leave animals exposed to extreme weather, both hot and cold. The laws vary, but in some cases offenders face fines or cruelty charges, and even felony charges if the animal perishes.

Animal protection groups and veterinarians say that although dogs, cats, horses and other animals grow thicker coats in the winter, the fur doesn't make them able to withstand subfreezing temperatures. Fluffy huskies can do better than smooth Chihuahuas, but experts say the general rule is that if it's too cold for you outside, it's too cold for pets.

Not sure whether it's too cold to walk Fido outside? Here are a few tips on keeping pets cozy from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

- Towel-dry your pet's paws after it comes in from the snow, and remove any snowballs from its fur.

- Don't shave your dog in the winter - let it grow out its long coat to keep it warm.

- If your dog has short fur and obviously did not evolve for wintry weather, consider a coat or a sweater vest to provide an extra layer of "fur."

- Ice, salt and chemicals from the ground will get stuck in your pet's feet and fur; wash its paws when it comes in to remove these potential hazards.

- Use pet-friendly ice melts on your sidewalks and driveways - even if you don't have pets.

- Giving your pet plenty of fresh water will prevent its skin from flaking and itching in the dry weather.

- Car coolant and antifreeze are lethal to animals, so clean up any spills or leaks immediately.