By Lindsay Pollard-Post
No one in their right mind would ever put a beloved animal companion in a hot oven, but every summer, people literally bake their dogs to death by leaving them in parked cars. Already this season, at least six dogs have suffered agonizing, panic-filled deaths inside hot vehicles. Many others have been rescued in the nick of time because a passerby cared enough to intervene.
In Ontario, Calif., a 19-year-old woman is facing cruelty charges for allegedly leaving her 1-year-old golden retriever in a hot car while she shopped at a mall. The dog was euthanized after veterinarians determined that she had sustained brain damage and heart and lung injuries. A Parma, Ohio, woman was recently sentenced to jail time after her dog was found suffering from heatstroke in a car in a bar parking lot. The temperature inside the car had reached 129 degrees. And in London, a police officer reportedly tried to commit suicide after two dogs whom he had left in the back of his patrol car died from the heat.
Each of these tragedies could have been avoided if the people responsible had simply left their dogs indoors with air conditioning or fans running. But every year, countless dogs pay the ultimate price because their guardians underestimate the danger of leaving a living being in a parked car. It doesn’t matter if it’s only slightly warm outside, if the windows are partially rolled down or if the vehicle is sitting in the shade: Parked cars are death traps for dogs.
A parked car can reach deadly temperature extremes faster than the time it takes to pick up a loaf of bread or dash into the bank to cash a check. On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a shaded car is 90 degrees, and the inside of a car parked in the sun can reach 160 degrees in a matter of minutes.
Hot cars are especially dangerous for dogs because they cannot regulate their body temperature as efficiently as humans can. We can roll down the windows, blast the air conditioning, shed layers of clothing and sweat, but dogs can only cool themselves by panting and perspiring tiny amounts through their footpads.
With only hot air to breathe, panting doesn’t work, so panic sets in for many dogs. Their desperate attempts to escape the roasting-hot vehicle by clawing at the windows or digging at the floor or seats only makes the animals hotter. Collapse, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of consciousness soon occur as the dog’s organs begin to die. Some dogs have heart attacks. According to Plano, Texas, veterinarian Shawn Messonnier, “When you do an autopsy on a dog [who] died this way, the organs are soupy.”
Even if they survive close calls in hot cars, dogs may sustain severe organ damage, which requires extensive and costly veterinary treatment. And as shown by the three cases mentioned above, people who bake their dogs also have a price to pay—in criminal charges, jail time, fines and extreme guilt.
Please, when you’re out and about this summer, be on the lookout for dogs who are trapped in hot cars. If you see one, have the owner paged inside the store or call local animal control authorities or police immediately. Every second counts, and you are that dog’s only hope.
If a dog is showing signs of heatstroke—restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, dark tongue, vomiting or lack of appetite and coordination—get him or her into the shade immediately and call 911. Lower the animal’s body temperature gradually by providing water to drink; applying a cold towel or ice pack to the head, neck and chest; or immersing the dog in lukewarm (not ice-cold) water. Rush the dog to a veterinarian.
And whatever you do, don’t put your best friend through suffering that most people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. Leave animals at home, where they will be cool, safe and happy—and where they’ll be waiting for you when you return.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation.