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 on 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 cars while their owners run errands inside air-conditioned stores.
The issue is so widespread, there’s even a website – www.mydogiscool.com – devoted to helping people save dogs from death in the summer heat. The campaign’s 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 and 102.5 degrees; a dog can only withstand a body temperature above 104 degrees 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 Labrador 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 dogs in a hot car in the Spokane Valley Costco parking lot.
The temperature inside the car was 126 degrees, Brown said.
When cited, 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.
On Saturday, Brown rushed Olive, the dog in the Value Village lot, to Fosberg’s clinic after someone spotted the dog inside the vehicle about 2 p.m. She had been in the car about a half-hour, with her owner nowhere to be found.
Employees at nearby Motion Auto Parts 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. The 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, a dog’s blood vessels break down, its brain overheats, and the animal goes into heat exhaustion, and then heatstroke, 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.
Owners can also be cited for leaving pets tied up without access to water or shade, or in the back of a pickup where the truck bed can heat up, causing second- and third-degree burns on paw pads. They also can be cited 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 veterinary 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 leave their dogs in the car, he said. “This will not happen again.”