Where I sit, it’s a crime to leave a dog alone in a car on a hot day. And I don’t just mean that metaphorically; it’s against actual state law.
In California, leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle coupled with dangerous conditions such as weather, insufficient ventilation or lack of food and water is a crime punishable by up to six months in jail or $500 in fines — or both if the animal is injured or dies.
While I’m glad there’s a law, the corresponding punishment feels somehow lacking.
That said, most people don’t want to kill their pets. Most people would be devastated knowing they’re responsible for their dog’s death due to heatstroke. Most people simply think it will never happen to them. And some people just don’t know any better.
But some people should know better. People like vets.
Last week, a Coachella Valley veterinarian left his 8-year-old German shepherd, Perro, locked in his SUV, which was parked outside his clinic. By the time police responded to the scene, the dog was in extreme heat distress. And by the time officers broke the windows in an effort to rescue the dog, it was too late. Perro died at the scene. Animal services estimated the temperature in the vehicle to be between 140 degrees and 150 degrees.
Every year, thousands of dogs die alone in hot cars. Everyday pet owners do it. Police officers do it; three police K-9s have died this summer after being left in hot cruisers by their handlers. Even veterinarians do it. Regardless of who does it, these are 100 percent preventable deaths.
Know this: Cracking the windows does nothing.
Even if it is “only” 80 degrees outside, within 10 to 15 minutes, the interior temperature of the car could be upward of 110 degrees even with the windows partially open.
If you or I were sitting in a 110-degree box, we’d simply get out. A dog is not so equipped. Another difference between a dog and a human in this scenario — and one that further exacerbates the dog’s plight — is that dogs don’t sweat. Not like we do. Sweating is our built-in air-conditioning system. It’s much harder for a dog to cool himself down — which is why it’s so dangerous to leave him alone in a car on a hot day.
If we are honest with ourselves, our dogs almost always are in our cars because we want them there, not because they want to be there. Bringing the pooch along for the ride is fine if you’re going to the vet, if you’re going to the dog-friendly pet store, if he’s welcome at the restaurant where you’ll be dining, if you’re going to the drive-in movie. But if you are headed anywhere that he is not welcome, leave him home, inside, with the AC cranked, where he’ll be safe and happy.
And if you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day, call the police. Don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about being perceived as “overreacting.” Don’t just keep walking. That phone call could save a life.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him athttp://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. Copyright 2012 Creators Syndicate Inc.