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Put Veterinary Science Where Your Mouth Is: Why we need “immediate rescue” policies and interventions when dogs are left in cars.

Dogs left locked in a hot car (2013)
Dogs left locked in a hot car (2013)

The public would immediately question the logic, and credibility, of         any child protection organization that recommended searching for the        parents of a child locked in a hot car, or notifying store managers,        before making a 911 call. And any    individual who followed such   peculiar and misguided advice, rather than immediately intervening       on behalf of the child, may also very likely be charged with           endangering the health, safety, and welfare of the child.”

 

What do dogs, windows, and your car have in common?  They all are legally recognized as the private “property” of their owners.  The tragic irony is our social concern over the possibility of a car door being opened by a stranger or a broken car window is, far too often, given priority over a beating heart and conscious mind that render a dog capable of bonding with humans, feeling happiness, or yelping in pain and howling in fear.

 

For example, the science of biology long ago classified canine anatomy.  Additionally, veterinary science has since identified many very specialized functions of dog physiology (let’s say, for instance, their acute senses of smell and hearing). Similar research has also identified clearly why dogs cannot physically withstand the dramatic heat rise that occurs inside a car, even when it is parked in the shade or left with the windows open. 

 

Furthermore, many scientific studies show precisely how, and why, heat rises so quickly in parked cars, even on a very mild day. Therefore, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) warns that even when outdoor spring temperatures are a beautifully perfect 60 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a car can heat up enough to prove fatal to a dog left inside (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ku1CLJv-HzM ).  Consequently, because of the physical limitations for a dog to cool himself down, we are often warned that “minutes matter” if we are to prevent irreversible heat induced organ failure and/or death for dogs left unattended in a parked car. 

 

However, what we don’t (and can’t) know may be even more decisive in tragic outcomes for dogs. People who unexpectedly find dogs left in parked cars often don’t know how long the dog has already been in the car, how hot the car actually is inside, or when the car owner might return. 
Should we walk away and hope for the best? We also can’t reliably know the degree of physical distress the dog may already be suffering, or exactly at what point the situation will turn against the dog and result in organ damage and/or death.  Some breeds are even more vulnerable to heat than other breeds. Does the general public know this information? Do all police officers? And, not all dogs die at the scene; some require intensive emergency hospital care after rescue from a hot car and may die weeks later, or need to be euthanized, as a result of organ failure due to exposure to high temperatures.  These deaths are often unaccounted for, just as most incidents of dogs being left in hot cars are undocumented. 

 

So it is shocking that most major animal protection organizations continue to recommend, year-after-year, that should you find a dog locked in a car on a “hot day” (does that include the 60 and 70 degree days the AVMA identifies?), the first course of action should be to attempt to locate the car owner and/or notify retailers of the situation, so they can begin searching, too.  This is a daunting scenario, particularly if the car is parked on a city street or located in the vast open parking lot of a large retailer (for example; malls, grocery stores, and big-box stores, where most calls seem to come from).  It also assures that the critical “minutes” that “matter” most to a trapped dog will be lost, as it is not unrealistic to assume that such a search for the car owner will take at least 20 minutes; long enough to roast a dog alive on a lovely day. 

 

Then there is the all-too-common, almost predictable, encounter with the hostile dog/car owner, such as the one recorded at the Natick, Massachusetts Mall last summer (http://framingham.patch.com/groups/the-voiceless-had-a-voice-over-the-week-end/p/little-dog-gets-a-voice-this-past-weekend : note the video links at the end of the column that show the little dog being dangled from the window of a moving car)  and the recent one filmed by the woman who attempted to intervene on behalf of a dog in Kentucky (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDZGtNlOA5c).  Only last week a dear colleague of mine was viciously verbally assaulted in Vermont and called “an old hag” and a “Commie bitch” after she tried to talk to a truck owner who left  two small distressed dogs in his pick-up truck on an 80 degree day. Rather than rely on what Vermont law specifically says about leaving a dog in hot car, the police officer who responded to the scene sided with the dog/truck owner and defended his brutal slander, reminding my astonished and publically humiliated friend that; "it's a free country with freedom of speech."    

 

 

All of this seems hard to comprehend.   The public would immediately question the logic, and credibility, of any child protection organization that recommended searching for the parents of a child locked in a hot car, or notifying store managers, before making a 911 call. And any             individual who followed such peculiar and misguided advice, rather than immediately intervening             on behalf of the child, may also very likely be charged with endangering the health, safety, and welfare of the child. So why do we accept our animal protection organizations emphasis on respecting cars and the rights of car owners above efforts that may effectively prevent animal cruelty, and possibly a horrifying death, for animals confined in cars?  Then again, children are not considered private property, another questionable shortfall “for the prevention of cruelty to animals”.

If we are to meaningfully prevent the suffering and deaths of dogs confined in cars in a way that endangers their health, safety, and survival we can no longer depend on wishful thinking.  Nor can we simply continue to hope for good outcomes based on individual-by-individual, officer-by-officer, town-by-town, or state-by-state decisions. After all, dogs die in hot cars in towns across Canada, Ohio and Minnesota just the same as they do in Florida and Arizona.  None-the-less, harm or death may result much more quickly for dogs locked in cars in some states, which is another factor not considered in the advice that individuals begin searching for car owners while a dog sits in a sweltering parked car.  Remember, “minutes matter” because a dog cannot physically compensate for the rapid rise in temperatures that occur in a parked car.

 

We need authoritative statements by the animal expert community (such as, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and Humane Society of the United States) that serve as the basis for responsible and consistent policy making, and promoting standardized timely interventions by first responders (including citizens, retail personnel, and police and animal control officers) based on the expert knowledge that our animal protection organizations have at their disposal; knowledge that is not currently reflected in their recommendations when finding dogs left in hot cars.

 

 

 

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