July 17, 2010 in City

‘Dog days’ are no time for a car ride

Animal control kept busy rescuing dogs from hot vehicles
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

SCRAPS Officer Ashley Brown holds Olive, a small Yorkie, after she was freed from a locked car in a parking lot along Sprague in Spokane Valley. Brown is making arrangements for a veterinarian to examine the dog on Saturday, July 17, 2010. The dog was warm to the touch and panting when freed.
(Full-size photo)

To report an animal left inside a car in the Spokane area, call SCRAPS (509) 477-2533, or SpokAnimal (509) 534-8133 immediately.

Even with the windows cracked, the temperature of the leather seat inside the Mercedes-Benz parked in the Value Village parking lot on East Sprague Saturday afternoon climbed to more than 140 degrees.

Down on the floor, where Olive, a Yorkshire terrier, was huddled beneath the foot pedals, an infrared gun gauged the temperature at a cooler 109 degrees.

“It’s literally like cooking,” said Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services Officer Ashley Brown, who was dispatched to rescue the dog.

It’s a scene that’s all-too familiar for animal control officers: as summer temperatures rise, so do the cases of animals left unattended inside stifling hot cars, while their owners run errands inside air conditioned stores.

The issue is so widespread nationwide, there’s even a website — www.mydogiscool.com — devoted to helping people save dogs from death in the summer heat. Their motto: “A hot oven or a hot car … it’s the same thing.”

“Even warm weather presents an imminent danger to pets left in vehicles as the temperature in cars will rapidly increase and can overwhelm a pet in a very short time period,” said Nancy Hill, SCRAPS director. “It is not sufficient in this weather to just crack the windows of a vehicle; everyone should leave their pets at home.”

It’s a criminal misdemeanor to leave a pet in a hot car. If the pet dies, its owner may face more serious felony animal cruelty charges.

Where animal control officers used to issue warnings, they now issue citations on the spot, after breaking the animal free. The punishment: a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail.

A dog’s normal body temperature is between 101 to 102.5 degrees; a dog can only withstand a body temperature above 104 degree for a short time before suffering nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or even death.

Last year they cut a car’s convertible top after finding a black lab suffering in the hot summer heat, while its owner was inside watching a movie.

The dog died, and the owner was charged with felony animal cruelty, Brown said. He served 12 days in jail and received 24 months probation.

On Tuesday, a pet owner was cited for criminal misdemeanor confinement in an unsafe manner after leaving their dogs in a hot car in the Spokane Valley Costco parking lot.

The temperature inside the car was 126 degrees, Brown said.

When citied, some pet owners try to rationalize, saying they brought the dog along because “the dog wanted to go.”

“Well, the dog didn’t know it was going to sit in the car and fry,” Brown said. “If it had known that it probably would have opted to stay home.”

“They may say, ‘Oh, it’s just a couple of minutes, but 10 minutes can mean the death of a pet,” said Dr. Mark Fosberg, a veterinarian at Legacy Animal Medical Clinic in Liberty Lake.

Brown rushed Olive to Fosberg’s clinic on Saturday, after citizens spotted Olive baking inside the vehicle about 2 p.m. She was there for about a half-hour, with her owner nowhere to be found.

Employees at nearby Motion Auto Parts store were about to break the car’s windows to free the dog when Brown arrived.

She acted quickly, climbing onto the car’s shiny hood with her heavy boots, sliding her arm through a crack in the sunroof and popping open the car’s door lock with a long stick.

Olive was panting heavily, and shaking.

“Dogs don’t sweat like humans. They only way they can get rid of the excess heat is to pant,” Fosberg said.

As the temperature rises, it becomes more difficult to get rid of the heat. At 106 degrees their blood vessels break down, their brain overheats and the animals go into heat exhaustion, and then heat stroke, losing consciousness. That is almost always fatal, Fosberg said.

“It wouldn’t take long (inside a hot car) to start showing the effects, maybe a half hour” he said.

Olive, he said, is lucky to be alive.

While hot cars are the most extreme mistreatment, but owners can also be cited for leaving pets tied up in the backyard without access to water or shade, or in the back of a pickup truck where the truck bed can heat up, causing second and third-degree burns on paw pads. They also can be cites for transporting animals in an unsafe manner, such as unsecured in the back of a pickup.

The man who left Olive in the car said she does not belong to him – he was dog-sitting for his girlfriend.

He declined to give his name, but said he made a “terrible mistake.” He called animal control dispatch after finding the citation on his hot seat, and Olive gone. They sent him to the vet clinic, where, after signing his ticket, he bought a treat for Olive with the hopes of mending fences.

“I’ll advise anyone and everyone I know,” not to make leave their dogs in the car, he said. “This will not happen again.”

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