Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hot cars can be fatal to animals

One month ago, at the Earth Day celebration at the Calpine center in Middletown, my husband and I saw a dog inside a parked car. There was shade over the car but we were still concerned. So we stopped at the California Highway Patrol booth. The officer there agreed to check on the animal and later reported that it seemed OK.

A few weeks later, we were walking through the field of parked cars at the weekly farmers' market that takes place at Steele Wines in Finley. Once again, we saw a dog inside a parked car -- but this time it was in full sun with the window open only a crack. The dog was panting rapidly.

We didn't know who in the crowd was responsible for the animal and we were unsure of whom else to approach. We called 911 and the dispatcher said the call would be relayed to Lake County Animal Care & Control. We could only hope, when we left the market, that someone would take care of the animal and make sure it did not overheat.

There are videos that depict horrible things intentionally done to helpless animals. Animal groups advocate passage of legislation that would outlaw this vile practice. That these videos are common enough, that they have enough of a market to warrant their own name, is deplorable. But sometimes the consequences of neglect can be just as fatal as willful cruelty.

According to MyDogIsCool.com, a Stanford University study found that when it was 72 degrees outside, a car's internal temperature climbed to 116 degrees within one hour. "In a study by San Francisco State University, when it was 80 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car rose to 99 degrees in 10 minutes and 109 degrees in 20 minutes."

Cracking the windows has little effect on the car's internal temperature.

The Website states that a dog's normal body temperature is between 101 to 102.5 degrees and that a dog can only cool off by panting and through the pads in its feet. This makes dogs especially vulnerable to heat-related illness. According to MyDogIsCool.com, a dog can only withstand high body temperature for a short time before suffering nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or death.

Here in Lake County, outdoor recreation is gaining momentum for the year as temperatures steadily grow warmer. Animal caregivers, onlookers and event management can all play a part in making sure animals stay safe.

First of all, caregivers should think about leaving their animals at home instead of locked in an overheating car. Even if you place your animal in the back of a pickup truck, please consider how hot metal can become in sunlight.

Onlookers who see an animal in distress can contact law enforcement or the managers of an event. MyDogIsCool.com identifies warning signs of heat-related illness, including excessive panting, excessive drooling, increased heart rate, trouble breathing, disorientation, collapse or loss of consciousness, seizure and respiratory arrest.

The Website also provides educational fliers with which to educate motorists.

Event managers can consider displaying educational materials, such as posters reminding motorists not to leave their animals in cars. At large-scale events when volunteers direct traffic, event managers should articulate a policy for reporting any animals left in cars. They should also consider asking law enforcement to patrol the parking areas. I think it would be more than justifiable if an animal's life is spared.

Published May 25, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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