BROOKSVILLE — Animal Services workers did not put a dog at risk on Thursday while demonstrating how quickly the spiking temperature inside a vehicle can kill a trapped pet.
But a large thermometer on the car's dashboard told a chilling tale.
At 90 degrees outside, the interior of the parked car hit 112 degrees in about 12 minutes of the demonstration at Hernando County Animal Services on Oliver Avenue. Moments later, the temperature had crept up to 120 degrees.
Animal Services officer John Tossona then broke the car's rear window, showing what officers are trained to do if called to such an emergency.
If the trapped animal is far from Animal Services' office, the outcome might not be positive. "Sometimes we get there in time; sometimes we don't," he said.
Pets of all kinds are at risk in parked vehicles, said officer Brenda Rogers, who noted Animal Services has responded to calls on contained cats and even a potbellied pig.
"Doing errands?" Tossona asked. "A minute, you think. It turns into 15-20 minutes and your animal can lose its life."
An outside temperature of 75 degrees can escalate to 120 degrees in an enclosed vehicle, he said. Even leaving the vehicle's windows partially open will reduce the inside temperature by only about five degrees.
It's not only the heated environment, Tossona noted, the animal is also breathing hot air.
The first sign of heatstroke is the animal's disorientation, Tossona said, then the brain and other vital organs begin shutting down.
When Animal Services is called for such a case, officers first try to locate the owner. "Then we'll break a window and take the dog out." He demonstrated a window shattering exercise in a car donated for the program by 98 Recyclers of Ridge Manor.
When an animal is rescued from a closed vehicle, Rogers said the first effort is to get it cooled down through air conditioning. "If it's distressed, we take it to a vet. We definitely don't want them to die on our shift."
Heatstroke in dogs is associated with exposure to high temperature, high humidity and inadequate ventilation, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
"The onset is very sudden and is likely to result in death," states the manual. Rectal body temperature can rise rapidly from a normal 101 degrees F to 110 degrees. "Rapid and heroic measures are necessary if death is to be avoided," the text continues.
As treatment, it advises immersion in an ice water bath, ice packs on the cranium, a dosage of aspirin, even cold water enemas.
Remedies aside, leaving an animal in distress can result in an arrest for animal cruelty, subject to a $500 fine, Tossona pointed out. He added, "We don't want to write citations. We're here to educate the public."
His best advice: "Leave your pet at home," he said.
Beth N. Gray can be contacted at [email protected]