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Shirley Zindler
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Dogs In Hot Cars: Caution

Bark readers are by their very nature, responsible dog owners. We treat our dogs as family and many of us love to take them with us whenever possible. The fact that we include them in every aspect of our lives is an example of our commitment to them. We would never knowingly do anything to put our beloved friends in danger and yet leaving them in our cars, even just for a few minutes, can be fatal.  As an animal control officer, I know the dangers better than most. I have witnessed the tragic results of people leaving dogs in the car “just to run in and get a gallon of milk.” Sadly, sometimes people get distracted, run into an old friend or the line is longer than expected. I have removed dead dogs from the owners vehicles and been haunted by the images in my dreams.

During the summer months our department responds to multiple dog-in-hot-car calls every day. Most of the time the vehicle is long gone when we arrive, or the dog is fine and the caller was just overly concerned. Occasionally the dog is truly in distress. I have a little portable thermometer that I put inside the vehicle (assuming that the window is cracked open) to measure the temperature. Often the owner comes back before the dog is in serious distress but when I show them the thermometer listing 90, 100 or more degrees, it makes an impact. Dogs vary tremendously in how much heat they can take. Short- faced or heavily coated dogs are far more susceptible to heat stroke than some others. In one case, the Husky puppy died in the vehicle, while a kitten was able to climb under the seats and survive. I won’t hesitate to break a window to save a dog’s life.

I remember one overcast day when an elderly couple drove a long distance to a hospital for a routine early morning appointment. They cracked the windows, parked in the shade and left their two dogs waiting in the car. The husband suffered a medical emergency during his visit and ended up being airlifted to another hospital. In the chaos of the day, the dogs were temporarily forgotten. The sun came out, the shade shifted and the dogs became distressed. I removed the dogs, placed them in my truck with the cooler on and water available and waited. Finally the panicked wife arrived, distraught with worry about her husband and suddenly remembering her dogs. The dogs recovered quickly but this is an extreme example of the kind of things that can come up, taking our attention away from our dogs.

I’m mortified to admit that I myself once put two puppies in danger in a hot vehicle. I was raising the orphaned pups on a bottle and had to attend an all day class in another city. No one was available to feed the babies so I took them with me, planning to feed them during the breaks from class.  It was a very cold, overcast winter morning and I was actually worried about the pups being chilled.

Two hours later when I returned to feed the pups, it was still overcast but the sun was peeking through the clouds and beating straight in the windows. It was chilly outside but the inside was uncomfortably hot and the pups were panting and crying in distress. Horrified by what I had done, I was in tears as I quickly moved them into the building and found a place for them inside. The pups were fine after a few minutes but it made a lasting impact on me and reminded me how easily it can happen.

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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