Animal advocates warn: Dogs and hot cars don't mix


Does Fido want to go for a ride?

You bet.

Does Fido want to die in a blazing hot car?

Not so much.

Pet care experts and law enforcement officials are reminding pet owners that summer sun and being locked in a hot car still cause dozens of canine deaths -- and more than a few human deaths -- every year. Some folks just don't understand how hot a car can get when stopping for just a few minutes to grab something at the store, and leaving Fido alone in the car.

"The thing you always hear is that it was just going to be for a minute," said John Perrault, executive director of the Berkshire Humane Society, the shelter for homeless pets in Pittsfield. "But you can run into somebody in the store, or the line could be long, and then it's too late. It happens every year."

According to information provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, interior temperatures can reach as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes.

How long would it take a dog to succumb in 160-degree heat? Not long.

Because dogs have a built-in fur coat and can cool themselves only by panting, they can succumb to heat stroke in just 15 minutes and can suffer brain damage or die as a result.

PETA receives reports yearly about animals that have died painfully inside cars during the spring and summer months. And according to a San Francisco State University study, more than 560 children have died in hot cars between 1998 and 2012.

"You just can't leave a living thing in a closed vehicle, even on a cloudy day," Perrault said. "It's best if you have to run errands to leave the puppy at home where he'll be comfortable and happy."

"This happens all the time," said Liam Cronin, senior online content provider for PETA in Los Angeles. "Some people just don't understand that only 15 minutes can mean agony, brain damage and death. People need to see this as the serious public threat that it is."

For example, on June 2, a 1-year-old pit bull mix named Raider died after being left in a car for more than one hour in the parking lot of a Phoenix mall.

In a case last August, two teens were charged with cruelty to animals after a dog was discovered in a parked car at a mall in Victor, N.Y. The car's windows were rolled up, and the dog appeared to be in distress.

And if the worst happens, it typically leaves the dog's owner decimated.

"It's one of the most tragic cases of cruelty, because it involves an owner who had absolutely no malicious intent at all," said K.C. Theisen, director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the U.S. "These are people who love their pets so much, they want to take them everywhere."

Apparently, the general public is pretty sensitive to the plight of cool dogs locked in hot cars.

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According to Mike Sullivan, animal control officer in Lee and Lenox, he gets a call nearly every day from someone who found a dog locked in a car and they are concerned for its safety.

Many times, that call can lead to angry reactions from both parties, he said, but given the danger, it's best to err on the side of caution.

Canine heatstroke symptoms include restlessness, excessive thirst, thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and lack of coordination. If a dog shows any of these symptoms, get it out of the heat, preferably into an air-conditioned vehicle, and then to a veterinarian immediately. If you are unable to transport the dog yourself, take it into an air-conditioned building and call animal control.

According to Sullivan, breaking into a person's car to save a canine in distress can raise legal issues, such as vandalism or breaking and entering.

"The dog would have to be visibly in distress," he said.

But PETA's Cronin said he has not yet heard of any such case where the rescuers was prosecuted.

PETA recommends that if someone notices a dog locked in a car on a hot day, they should check with the local businesses nearby for the owner. If no owner appears, call the police or local shelter. Stay with the dog until help arrives. If the dog appears to be in distress and there are no public safety officials responding, the person should gather a few others as witnesses to the dog's distress, and try to free it from the car with as little damage to the vehicle as possible.

"We don't know of anyone who has been successfully prosecuted for rescuing an animal in danger of dying from being left in a hot car, but many people have been charged with leaving animals in hot cars," Cronin said. "While circumstances vary from one jurisdiction to another, we're certain that our criminal justice system would err on the animal rescuer's side in such a case. I can't imagine that any court would convict you, but someone might give you a pat on the back."

To reach Scott Stafford:,
or (413) 663-3741, ext. 227.
On Twitter: @BESStafford

Safety tips ...

PETA makes the following suggestions for safeguarding animals:

Keep dogs indoors: Unlike humans, dogs can only sweat through their foot pads and cool themselves by panting. Soaring temperatures can cause heat stress, injury, or death.

Provide water and shade: If animals must be left outside, they should be supplied with ample water and shade, and the shifting sun needs to be taken into account.

Walk -- don't run: In very hot, humid weather, never exercise dogs by cycling while they try to keep up or by running them while you jog. Dogs will collapse before giving up, at which point, it may be too late to save them.

Avoid hot cars: Never leave an animal in a parked car in warm weather, even for short periods with the windows slightly open. Dogs trapped inside parked cars can succumb to heat stroke within minutes -- even if a car isn't parked in direct sunlight.

Never transport animals in the bed of a pickup truck: This practice is dangerous -- and illegal in many cities and states -- because animals can catapult out of a truck bed on a sudden stop or choke if they jump out while they're tied up.

Stay alert and save a life: Keep an eye on all outdoor animals. Make sure that they have adequate water and shelter. If you see an animal in distress, provide him or her with water for immediate relief and then contact the authorities right away.


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