Good Samaritans, temperature guns and tougher laws are the newest tools in America’s campaign to keep animals out of hot cars, where just minutes can mean death.
More calls are coming in about overheated dogs – and officials say that’s a good thing, because more people are aware of the problem and calling before it’s too late.
No one keeps tabs on annual deaths or injuries because so many different agencies handle calls. But agencies say calls have increased to police departments, fire departments, animal control officers, shelters or veterinarians.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Task Force has been swamped with calls about pets in unattended cars since summer started, said task force member Tami Shepphird, an animal control officer with Los Angeles Animal Services.
People running errands are the most common offenders, said LAPD Officer Jim Cherrette, also a task force member.
“It’s more a crime of negligence than malice,” Cherrette said.
Heatstroke affects every organ in the body, said Dr. Ben Brainard, an associate professor of critical care at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
As a dog begins to get hot, it will become anxious, agitated and start pacing, Brainard said. Then the dog will start drooling, maybe frothing at the mouth, vomiting and defecating. As the heat starts to affect the dog’s brain, it will stumble, lose its balance and have trouble standing. It will then collapse, and finally lose consciousness, Brainard said.
Fourteen U.S. states have laws that prohibit endangering an animal’s life by leaving it in a confined vehicle, according to the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law. (Florida is not on the list.) Other states handle the issue under animal cruelty statutes, the college said.
Confronting an animal owner can be dangerous, so a bystander who sees an endangered animal should call police, contact a security guard or some other second party, said Yvette Smith, another member of the L.A. task force.
If you are able to reach an overheated dog, use water to cool it off. “If the dog is non-responsive, get it wet and head to the vet,” Brainard said.