Welcome back, Sit, Stay, & Bloggers!
The lazy dog days of summer are upon us! With warmer weather, it is a normalcy to see an increase in people and their canine companions taking part in fun outdoor activities. Fido gets to go on more car rides during a family ice cream outing, to go hiking, or to go splish-splash in a nearby lake. Although I say this without 100 percent certainty due to a lack of relevant statistics, it is my observations that this warmer weather also appears to bring an uptick in the number of dogs left unattended in their owners’ cars. I wanted to utilize this platform as a way to educate others about the dangers of this behavior and how passersby can safely and appropriately intervene.
Last summer, Alex and I made a quick trip to the store. Upon arrival, we noticed a Saint Bernard puppy (Note: Dogs of all ages and sizes are puppies here at Sit, Stay, & Blog!) pacing back and forth in his owner’s truck. He shifted in the driver’s seat, hopped to the back seat, moved back up to the driver’s seat, and waited. He waited anxiously for his owner’s arrival. We stood by the truck brainstorming what to do and how to respond. The window was rolled halfway down, but that isn’t even excusable for a brisk 60-degree day, let alone this near 90-degree summer sweat box of a day. We made a very classic mistake of excusing his owner’s poor behavior and saying to ourselves “Maybe his owner ran in quick and will be out soon.”
We proceeded to make our rounds through the store, pacing up and down the necessary aisles so that we could get back out to the dog. We checked out in what was probably record timing for a Tiana and Alex trip to the store and hurried back outside. To our dismay, the Saint Bernard was still there, owner-less and panting. Here sat this helpless, loyal companion who was so invested in his human partner, he couldn’t divert his attention toward anything but the direction his owner presumably headed last (the storefront).
Still unsure what exactly to do next, we spotted a security officer parked in the store’s parking lot. We had hope that surely this was the answer we were looking for! So, next, Alex approached the security officer while I stayed with the dog, tried to console him, and did my best to provide any source of comfort that his owner was haphazardly neglecting. Now, what is worse than leaving your dog in a hot car? Reporting said dog in a hot car and getting nothing but sheer disappointment. Alex’s conversation with the officer went something to this effect:
–Alex: “This dog has been in that truck for a pretty long time, and it is really hot outside for him to be in there.”
–Officer: “Are the windows down?”
–Alex: “Yes, but it is too hot out, and that isn’t helping.”
–Officer: “I’m sure he’ll be fine.” (**proceeds to roll up the window to his air-conditioned patrol car)
We were still relatively new to this state, and although I could recite many of the animal rights related laws in our home state, this was new territory. We took the best course of action we knew at the time. Unfortunately, it failed us, and it failed Fido. When we got home, I began looking up what to do in these types of situations, what was legal, and what our options were in becoming more than “helpless” bystanders.
Leaving Fido in a Hot Car: The Dangers
According to The Humane Society of the United States (2018) and further supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)(2018), the temperature inside a vehicle can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit in mere minutes. As an example, an exterior temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit will yield a vehicle interior temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit in ten minutes (AVMA, 2018). It gets worse: On a 90-degree day, it only takes 30 minutes to reach 124 degrees Fahrenheit inside the vehicle (AVMA, 2018)!
Dogs abandoned in these types of conditions can be subject to the following (The Humane Society of the United States, 2018)(AVMA, 2018)(ASPCA, 2018):
- Brain damage
- Heat stroke (symptoms of overheating can include difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor, collapse, seizures, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, elevated body temperature)(ASPCA, 2018)
- Heat stress (heavy panting, glazed eyes, deep red or purple tongue, vomiting, staggering gait, rapid pulse, unsteadiness)(The Humane Society of the United States, 2018)
- Irreparable organ damage
- Stress and anxiety
Saving Fido: What To Do
When you find yourself in this passerby role, it can feel out of your control, scary, and intimidating. Here are steps you can take to gain control of the situation and help get Fido to safety:
- If you’re in a store parking lot, for example, you can:
- Take down the make, model, and license plate # of the vehicle
- Notify a manager or security guard and ask them to make an announcement over their intercom system to locate the vehicle owner
- If an owner cannot be found, the following steps can be taken:
- Call a non-emergency police phone number, the local police, or your local animal control
- Wait by the car for contacted individual(s) to arrive
- Refer to Wisch’s (2018) Table of State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Cars for more information about whether or not laws exist in your state that prohibit leaving animals unattended in vehicles in dangerous conditions as well as what protections from being sued, if any, exist for rescuing a distressed animal
- If you’re employed in law enforcement and/or wish to read more about how law enforcement may proceed in intervening in this type of situation, refer to Investigating Heat-Related Illness and Death: A Guide for Law Enforcement (The Humane Society of the United States, 2018).
After researching this subject matter, everything appeared so logical, so sensical. Yet, news stories are published each year about dogs (and kids) dying after being left in unattended vehicles in dangerous weather conditions. To that I say: Do something. Be the change. If you report it and the report isn’t taken seriously (as was the case for Alex and I), don’t stop there. Call again, be persistent, and don’t give up! If you’re someone who is easily forgetful, take action by leaving the dog’s leash or a reminder note on your passenger’s seat, and make the “look before you lock” mantra habitual.
I’ll be the first to admit, Alex and I made many mistakes that day (initially leaving the dog’s side, not making a second report to store managers, not calling the local police department, etc.), but I refuse to wallow in self-blame as it was the owner’s ultimate decision to leave their dog in the car in 90-degree weather. I firmly believe that life hands us these situations as a way to learn from them and educate others about the experiences and knowledge we’ve gained, and from this situation, I’ve undoubtedly enhanced my knowledge base regarding bystander intervention strategies. In the end, it’s important to remember: Our animal friends are essentially helpless, yet full of hope that we’ll be their saving grace. Don’t let a lack of education, fear, or the thought that “someone else will handle it” stop you from being that saving grace!
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Until next time, stay cool! 🙂
American Veterinary Medical Association. (2018). Pets in vehicles. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/pets-in-vehicles.aspx
ASPCA (2017, August 4). Pets left in hot cars is everyone’s problem. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/blog/pets-left-hot-cars-everyones-problem
That Fish Place – That Pet Place. (2018, June 29). Heat stroke: know the signs. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/thatfishplacethatpetplace/photos/a.566441863382908.148542.150584764968622/2254502841243460/?type=3&theater
The Humane Society of the United States. (2018). What to do if you see a dog in a parked car. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/help-dog-in-hot-car.html#outside
The Humane Society of the United States. (2018). Keep pets safe in the heat. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/pets_safe_heat_wave.html?credit=web_id527761502
Wisch, R.F. (2018). Table of state laws that protect animals left in parked cars. Retrieved from https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-laws-protect-animals-left-parked-vehicles