Law enforcement reminds residents, visitors to keep pets out of hot cars
Some like it hot, but man’s best friend isn’t one of them.
It’s been said time and again, that when it’s warm outside, the temperature inside a vehicle is much higher. Yet year after year — from late spring throughout the summer, animal services and law enforcement agencies routinely receive calls reporting a dog inside a car, in distress.
During the peak summer months, El Dorado County Animal Services responds to about 10 of these calls a week, which doesn’t count those the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office receives.
“Even on an 85-degree day, with the windows half way down, the car parked in the shade, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise to 120 degrees within 30 minutes and that is when you cross the threshold and an animal can become heat stressed, which can lead to heat stroke, irreparable brain damage and ultimately, death,” El Dorado County Animal Services Chief Henry Brzezinski said, noting when animal services’ officers respond to an incident they bring with them a handheld sensor which, via infrared, measures the exact temperature inside the vehicle to determine whether there’s a violation or not.
Simply put, “If it’s too hot for you to walk around barefoot, or sit in a car without air conditioning, please do not put your animals in those situations,” El Dorado County Sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Prencipe said.
State law prohibits pet owners from leaving their animals in an unattended vehicle when it can “adversely affect the animal’s health and welfare,” Brzezinski said. In certain circumstances, owners can be criminally charged. Last year the law (Penal Code 597.7- Animal In Unattended Motor Vehicle) was amended to allow good Samaritans to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal in distress — under certain circumstances, which include but are not limited to the good Samaritan reasonably believing that the animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm if it is not immediately removed from the vehicle, and the Samaritan has contacted a local law enforcement agency, fire department, animal control, or the 911 emergency service prior to forcibly entering the vehicle.
“Animal services advises any good Samaritan to ensure that the animal is truly in distress before taking action. Most importantly a good ‘Sam’ needs to contact animal services or law enforcement,” Brzezinski said, adding, while an animal’s safety is of utmost importance, well-intending people also don’t want to break into a vehicle when an animal may have only been in there for a short time and the temperature doesn’t meet the threshold.
It’s also important to use caution when exercising with pets. Animal services advises that people do not walk their dogs on hot asphalt when temperatures are in the 80s or above. “On a 77-degree day the asphalt will heat up to 125 degrees and at that temperature skin destruction can occur,” Brzezinski said.
“Animals cannot sweat like humans do and their normal body temperature ranges from 101.5 to 102.5 degrees. Dogs cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paw pads. If they have only overheated air to breathe, animals can collapse, suffer brain damage and possibly die of heatstroke. Just a few minutes can be enough for an animal’s body temperature to climb to deadly levels,” states information from the Humane Society of the United States.
Recognizing heat illness
Any animal can suffer from the heat, but most at risk are “very young and very old animals, short nosed breeds (i.e. pugs, bulldogs), heavy coated cats and dogs, and pets that are overweight or have a medical condition,” Brzezinski said, adding, livestock and other animals that are normally kept outside are also vulnerable if not protected from the heat with a source of shade and given plenty of water.
Heavy panting, glazed eyes, lack of alertness, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness or a staggering gait, vomiting, or a deep red or purple tongue, can be signs of heat illness. “If your pet shows symptoms of heat stroke, move it into the shade or an air-conditioned area, apply ice packs or cold towels to its neck, let it drink small amounts of cool water and take it directly to the veterinarian,” Brzezinski said.
Who to call
To report an animal in distress call El Dorado County Animal Services at 530-621-5795, or the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office (non-emergency line) at 530-621-6600. If the animal’s situation appears to be life threatening call 911.
When calling, be prepared to share the location of the vehicle, a description of it, and the license plate number which assists animal services in case the pet owner departs the scene. “Animal services takes the complaint seriously and we will follow up on it with the vehicle owner to educate them about the dangers of keeping an animal in the car (when it’s too hot). We will send them an educational letter,” Brzezinski said.
Asked if he’s seen a decrease in these types of calls over the years, the animal services chief said, “No. We continue to get calls every year; it just astonishes me.”