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Leaving a dog in a car, even just for a minute, could be fatal

Leaving a dog alone in a car on a hot day can prove to be a fatal mistake. Often, people don’t realize just how quickly a car’s internal temperature can rise, putting a pet’s life at risk.

Leaving a dog alone in a car on a hot day can prove to be a fatal mistake. Often, people don’t realize just how quickly a car’s internal temperature can rise, putting a pet’s life at risk.

If you've ever left your dog in the car for "just five minutes" on a summer day, the officers of the Washington Humane Society want you to hear some cautionary tales. • "They all say the same thing: I never thought that this would happen," says Mitchell Battle, deputy director of humane law enforcement at the Washington Humane Society. "I was only going to be gone for two minutes." • But just running inside for a quick errand can be deadly to your pet — even if the weather isn't all that hot.

In one fatal incident, Battle said, the temperature was only in the 70s. A woman stopped at home, parked in the shade and came out after what she said was 15 minutes. When officers arrived, the shade had moved, turning the car into what officer Eve Russell called "a solar powered Easy-Bake oven."

Check out how hot a car can really get at mydogiscool.com, a program of United Animal Nations. When it's 72 degrees, a car in direct sun can reach an internal temperature of 116. Even in the shade, a car can be 10 to 20 degrees hotter than outdoors, and cracking the window has almost no effect.

Veterinarian Cate Rinaldo, a volunteer with United Animal Nations, said dogs don't have sweat glands all over their bodies as humans do. They cool off by panting, which is inefficient.

Once a dog's body temperature gets over about 106 — normal temperature is around 101 — the result is "everything from nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, systemic organ failure, and it happens fast, within a matter of minutes," she said.

Cars are not the only place where dogs can get overheated. Rinaldo said before she was a vet and knew of the dangers, one of her dogs collapsed from heat exhaustion after playing on a 75-degree day.

That dog survived, but not all are so lucky. One 90-degree day in the San Bernadino mountains, Andy Hoodward of Orange, Calif., was flagged down by a couple carrying their dog in a backpack.

"The woman explained that they had set out hiking in the morning but a couple of miles in, the dog had become lethargic, unresponsive and would neither walk nor drink," Hoodward said.

The couple were also in bad shape, and Hoodward drove them to a ranger's station, but the dog died on the trip.

Officers say anyone can be the victim of inattention or miscalculation. Officer Ann Russell tells of one woman who worked with autistic children and was a volunteer guide dog puppy raiser — "the most responsible person you can imagine," she said. In an emergency with one of the children, the woman accidentally left a puppy in a car and it died.

Even indoors, it can get too hot for some animals. Be especially careful if you confine your dog to one area of the house and he's not free to seek a cooler spot.

If you leave your dogs outside, even on a patio or deck, make sure they have shade all day and remember that the sun moves. Use a tarp or awning to shade the spot, and perhaps reconsider whether your dogs might be happier indoors.

"Go out there barefoot and step on the concrete where your dogs are," Battle said. "It's not as comfortable as you think it is."

If you see a dog left in a hot car


Humane officers say that in many situations it is fine to leave a dog in a car, but if you have any doubt about the temperature or whether the animal is in distress, don't hesitate to call. Zita Macinanti, director of humane law enforcement at the Washington Humane Society, says that rather than take a chance, "It's better to waste our time." If you don't know who to call, officers say it's okay to call 911. When you call, remember:

Leave contact information in case officers need more information; being able to contact you can make a difference in finding the car in time. They won't give out your name, so don't fear repercussions.

If you can't stay, try to find someone local, like a clerk in a nearby store, who can direct officers. If you can't leave a phone number, ask if you can provide the number of the store.

If the owner returns and the car leaves, let officers know so they can attend to other animals that need their help.

Associated Press

Leaving a dog in a car, even just for a minute, could be fatal 07/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 12:41pm]

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