Even a few minutes in a vehicle while you “pop in the shop” risks the life of your beloved Fido
I wasn’t paying much attention to the older gentleman ahead of me in line at the pet store. The cashier had pleasantly asked where his dog was today, because pet stores are the one place where everybody seems happy to see a dog.
“Oh, she’s at home, and hopefully not tearing the place apart,” he said gruffly. The cashier smiled her best dogs-will-be-dogs smile and continued the transaction. It was the next thing he uttered that made me shift the tower of cat food cases I was holding.
“And now of course, every idiot who wants to is allowed to break my car windows when I leave her in the car,” he continued.
Yeah, that idiot would be me, you old fool.
I watched him head out the doors and wondered why he had a dog at all. Dogs are a wonderful, joyful, pain in the ass. If you have one, you’ve signed up for all that entails, and that means not leaving them behind in cars that can heat up faster than a microwave. Ever. Not even for ten minutes.
Provincial animal protection mandates are in place across the country, and headline-making negligence reports are making lawmakers take heed. In December, 2014, Nova Scotia recently passed legislation with higher fines ($200-$700) for some abuses, and giving more power to SPCA officers to do things like break car windows instead of waiting for police. Breaking a window will always be a call made in the moment if you’re a bystander, but it’s good to know that some places are recognizing that seconds can matter if an animal – or worse, a child – is in distress.
The law in many places is still blurry; we need it bolstered, like they did in Nova Scotia. British Columbia currently has 24 SPCA workers who are able to intervene, and their NDP government continues to push for harsher laws. Currently, you can face a $75,000 fine and two years in jail. In May, 2014, a dog walker caused the death of six animals in her care when she left them in her van. She received a six-month sentence, but it served as fuel for this debate.
Last year, California enacted a law that allows private citizens to rescue dogs from a hot or cold car, but the wording is deliberate, and focuses on causing the least amount of trauma to a trapped pet rather than baseball bat justice.
I’ve put myself through the physical terribleness of being locked in a hot car for an hour, and I can’t imagine how a child or pet would get through a similar experience. Leaving aside the words I have for people who leave their children in the car while they run in somewhere “just for a minute”, let’s address the pups.
A car or van is an oven. Steel and glass and dark interiors, they are ovens, not shelters. In ten minutes the temperature inside your vehicle can rise from 21C (70F) to 32C (90F) American Veterinary Medical Association. Another ten minutes it can get to nearly 38C (100F). In 20 minutes that lovely temperature you’re enjoying outside has turned your car into a deathtrap for your creature.
Don’t bother with cracking the window. If you have your oven on and you open the door an inch or two, it does nothing. Same with your car. Parking in the shade? Nope. The heat – and your animal – is trapped regardless.
Dogs don’t perspire like people. They can only pant and sweat through their paws. If the seats are hot, that removes one option from them. Pile on the frantic behaviour that often ensues by being left behind by the people they trust, and ramp up the onset of their internal thermostats heating up. Distress can set in in minutes, and organ failure and death not long after. Yes, it can happen fast. Would you ever set your oven for 100 degrees and put something living in there? Thought not.
Every province has an SPCA number you can call if you see an animal left in a car. You can also call police. You can run into nearby stores and try to have a car owner paged. Most tips tell you that leaving a car running with the air conditioning on is not a solution, but I’d argue that, at least gently. I have a friend who travels with her dog across the southern U.S. sometimes and it’s much safer to leave her animal locked in a running vehicle while she dashes in for a pee if that is her only option. It’s a solution that introduces other concerns, but if the emergency brake is on so Fido can’t accidentally drop it into drive, I’d take this approach over the roasting car.
There are many who criticize the internet for creating vigilante lawlessness, and it’s as easy to find a sympathetic story about someone who only left their kid or their dog for twenty seconds before all hell broke loose. I’m not an unreasonable person, but “I was only gone for a few minutes” has to become equated with “I only had a couple of beers”. Neither can work, neither can become normal, neither can be acceptable.
My dog-owning kids know they can drop their critters off with me if they have to; I’ve offered to stay with a pup outside a store on a leash, and I’m no dog person. The cashier at the pet store I was at told me staff even offer to go out to cars of customers, like the crotchety guy ahead of me, when they knew there might be dogs left outside.
If your animal is already in distress, a stranger breaking a window will increase that stress in the short term. But before you start calling out the rebels looking for a cause, remind me why I care more about your dog than you do.