With high summer temperatures and intense sunlight already here, pet owners are reminded that both of these can turn the family vehicle into an oven, endangering pets that are left in the car for even a few minutes. Heat exhaustion—and in some cases death—can be the result.
“Unless you’re going straight to the cottage or the beach, or somewhere to do something with your dog—like visit a dog park—leave your pet at home,” advises Geoff Urton, Senior Manager of Stakeholder Relations with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA). If you are just planning on running errands, it’s safest not to bring Fido along.
“People think ‘I’m only going into the store for 10 minutes’, and then they get talking and it becomes half an hour,” says Urton. “Dogs have a hard time cooling off. They’re wearing a fur coat all the time, and they don’t perspire.” An animal left in a hot car can overheat in less than 10 minutes, and parking your car in the shade, or leaving the windows partly open, makes little difference to the interior temperature of the vehicle. The air heats up quickly, and soon surpasses the outside temperature.
Last year the BC SPCA received 1,529 calls about animals in distress in hot cars. So far this year they have already responded to 81 similar calls, with the worst of the hot weather still on the way.
Increased awareness around the subject has led to an increase in confrontations between would-be rescuers and pet owners. “Onlookers need to address the situation in a responsible way,” says Urton. Not every dog in every car needs to be rescued, so learn to spot the signs of a dog in distress before acting. Exaggerated panting (or the sudden stopping of panting); salivation; an anxious or staring expression; weakness or muscle tremors; convulsion or vomiting; and being unresponsive to a gentle tapping at the window could all indicate an animal in distress.
Do not agitate the dog by pounding on the window or vehicle or by yelling. Urton recommends going into the nearest store or business and asking someone to make an announcement, giving the description and licence number of the vehicle. This reduces the risk of a confrontation.
If the animal is in distress and the owner cannot be located, call the RCMP. “They can intervene; it’s well within their powers. An SPCA constable can follow up if necessary. Don’t take the situation into your own hands; let the proper authorities handle it.”
While you might feel guilty leaving your dog at home, particularly if you are used to having it accompany you everywhere, your pet will be much happier—and safer—at home, where it has shade and water. On long summer road trips, plan ahead to make sure stops along the way are safe for your pet. Have someone stay with the dog outside the car while everyone else makes a rest stop or goes to get refreshments, suggests Urton.
“We need to focus on what’s best for animals, and we need to educate people about not leaving dogs in cars.”