Heat's up, motorists warned: Don't leave dog in parked car

05/14/2013 12:00 AM

05/14/2013 8:34 AM

At Arden Fair mall, Steve Reed carefully monitors people leaving pets in cars on warm days. And it concerns him.

"It's one of the things that people do," said Reed, head of the mall's security. "They come in and shop for two to three hours, and they're leaving their pets in the car. Even if you leave the windows cracked, it can still get to 120 degrees. So it's not a safeguard."

To make his point, Reed said, the mall is teaming up with Red Rover, an animal- protection group, the Sacramento Police Department K-9 unit and city animal shelter workers in a public awareness effort. The message: Pets can suffocate or die from heat stroke with temperatures the Sacramento region is having.

"We want to have people make a commitment to not leave their dog in the car," said Reed. "It's a matter of education."

The event is one of 30 My Dog Is Cool action days this month across the United States and Canada.

Since late April, Arden Fair mall has had five such cases reported. On April 28, a small dog was left in a car parked in the Macy's garage around 5:15 p.m. Security noticed it on mall cameras and checked out the animal within 15 minutes. Temperatures inside the car had climbed to 97 degrees.

"Imagine if you were wearing a fur coat sitting in there," said Reed. "Even in a shaded garage, it's going to get that hot."

He said the dog was panting and because the car door was unlocked, the dog was taken out and to a small room where Reed keeps a kennel and water bowls.

"It was not in very severe distress," he said. "The mother was very apologetic and the little girl was crying."

Normally, Reed said, the mall would wait until animal control officers arrived and the owners would be cited.

It is illegal to leave a pet unattended in a vehicle where it can be harmed by heat exposure, according to Dave Dickinson, director of Animal Care and Regulation in Sacramento County.

A first offense could cost up to $100. If the animal suffers or dies, or if it is a repeat offense, the owner could be fined up to $500 and jailed up to six months.

In Arden Fair's case, the owners were warned and the dog was released back to them.

"The people were not happy we took their dog," said Reed. "But we're not here to make them happy. We're here to save their animals."

The My Dog is Cool event couldn't have come at a better time. The forecast for the Sacramento area this week calls for above-normal temperatures, according to Tom Dang, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The high today was expected to reach 89 degrees, dipping slightly to 87 Wednesday. While temperatures are expected to drop to 81 Friday, another ridge of high pressure is expected for the weekend, sending temperatures back to the upper 80s and low 90s.

"If it's in the 80s outside, the car can get to 102 degrees in 10 minutes," said Reed. "We've had temperatures get as high as 140 degrees."

The danger for dogs is that they do not sweat as humans do to cool their body.

"They don't have sweat glands like we do," said Dr. Ken Schenck of Mueller Pet Medical Center. "They pant to cool off their system. They sweat through their foot pads."

But that doesn't last long.

"When the air temperature is so high, it doesn't allow the cooling process to continue and the body temperature rises," he said.

"When (pets) get above 104 to 105 degrees, it's a crisis. When it gets to 106 degrees, we can't bring them back. At that point, they're going to go (die)."

The dog's body tries to cool itself by moving the blood supply out of the abdomen, but then tissue failure occurs. The kidney will fail, the liver starts having trouble, then the lungs and brain.

"The biggest challenge is the loss of lung tissue, when the cardiovascular system starts to fail," said Schenck. "The brain can begin to swell and the dog can die quickly."

The progression of events is first marked by the dog panting.

"If they're looking weak or staggering, or if they are sitting and don't want to move and the breathing is labored, or if you see ribs moving, then they're in trouble."

Heatstroke in dogs is treated much the same way it is in humans – the core body temperature needs to be cooled down.

"One thing that owners can try is to give them a cold water bath or put on the garden hose on them," he said. "You need to get the torso cooled, get them cooled, and cooled quick."

Schenck said that every year, his animal hospital sees about 20 to 30 cases of heatstroke in dogs, most as a result of being left in parked cars.

"Don't leave your dog in a parked car, even on a cold day," he said. "You never know when it's going to change. You never know how a dog would react, so never leave them in a parked car. Just don't do it. The results can be devastating."

PETS, CARS AND YOU

What: High temperatures make it dangerous to leave pets in the car. A public-education program called My Dog is Cool will be held Friday.

When: Noon to 4 p.m.

Where: Arden Fair mall, 1689 Arden Way.

For more information: For tips on what to do if your animal becomes overheated, go to www.saccountyshelter.net

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