by Lauren Masellas, Animal Control Officer
I know we are all thoroughly enjoying the summer! But there are some important safe guards for not only ourselves in the heat, but our pets as well. And they are surprisingly similar…but let’s start with the facts: there are multiple state laws that address animals and the weather.
It is a cruelty violation if one “Deprives an animal that the person owns or possesses of necessary…protection from the weather…” The law goes on to specifically state it is a violation if one “Confines an animal in a building, enclosure, car, boat, vehicle or vessel of any kind when extreme heat or extreme cold will be harmful to its health.” And it continues in with Removal Authorized: “A law enforcement officer, humane agent or animal control officer may take all steps that are reasonably necessary to remove an animal from a motor vehicle if the animal’s safety, health or well-being appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation and the conditions could reasonably be expected to cause extreme suffering or death.”
Now, like many animal lovers, I enjoy my dogs company in my car when I can. I do not, however, use my car to supplement behavior problems at home. A dog that has to go with their owner everywhere, because they cannot be trusted home alone due to behavior issues such as chewing, urinating or incessant barking, to name a few, needs to have those issues addressed. Modifying your own lifestyle to accommodate your dog’s behavior is a short term solution to a long term problem.
I bring this up because it is probably the number one explanation I hear when I respond to a dog left in a car on a hot day. Another one I hear a lot is “my dog just loves going for rides” and “my dog wants to be with me all the time”. Well, hopefully, that’s true! However dogs, like children, don’t always know what is best for them. And as their guardians, we sometimes have to make decisions for them, like it or not!
When trying to decide if it’s safe to take your dog with you in the car, keep these statistics in mind.
According to research sited by The Humane Society of the United States, with an outside temperature around 80 degrees, It can take less than 10 minutes for your car’s inside temperature to reach over 100 degrees – with the windows partially open! In less than a ½ hour your dog could be suffering in 120 degree heat!
Exposure to excessive heat causes the body’s cells to stop working properly and release dangerous chemicals, which can lead to nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage and even death. Essentially, all of the dog’s organ systems shut down at once. Studies show that cracking the windows has little effect on a car’s internal temperature. And like people, very young and elderly dogs are more susceptible to over heating as are heavily coated and short nosed breeds like pugs and bulldogs.
Now, in a perfect world, you could easily get in and out of Walmart in less than 10 minutes…of course, we all know that we don’t live in a perfect world! Even a quick run into the bank takes more than 10 minutes nowadays, especially if you’re in a hurry! That’s the same perfect world where the shade doesn’t “move” while you’re gone and the car never stalls after you leave it running with the AC on…even though you’re only going to be gone for a “few minutes”.
We love our pets. I can honestly say, I have never pulled someone’s pet out of an overheated vehicle and had the owner say “I meant to do that!” We only want them to be happy. Unfortunately, our desire for happiness sometimes over rules our common sense and can lead to tragedy. Please, pay close attention to the weather, especially the heat/humidity (that “feels like” temperature) and err on the side of caution. Anything over 72 degrees means the dog stays home- or you’re sticking to drive-thru only errands!
So, should you notice an animal in a car on a hot/freezing day, what should you do? First, check to see if the car is running with the AC/heat on. This is a more common practice than you may think! Take down the vehicle plate number, make/model/color, and call the local police department. Dogs, even when not in physical distress will often “pant” when anxious or excited but will be alert and active within the vehicle. If you note the following symptoms however, be sure to tell the dispatcher/officer as a rapid response may be needed. Symptoms of extreme stress: heavy, labored panting, glazed eyes, deep red/purple tongue, vomiting, non-responsive. It is illegal for a private citizen to remove an animal from a vehicle. The sooner you call, the faster we can respond.
If behavior issues make it difficult to leave your pet at home alone, visit this page at aspca.org to learn about possible causes and solutions.