Three pit bulls were already dead when a sheriff’s deputy found them in a hot car outside a Fair Oaks Boulevard apartment complex last week. A fourth was hanging on by a thread.
That dog was suffering from heat stroke, panting heavily and had a body temperature over 107 degrees, according to the veterinarian who initially treated the animal.
“Every system was stressed,” said Valerie Patton, who provided emergency treatment to the female pit bull at Campus Commons Pet Hospital. She said the dog was doing a little bit better when it was turned over to animal control officers. But the damage to the animal’s organs was too severe and it ultimately had to be euthanized, animal control officials reported.
The owner of the four dogs, Trevor Courtney, has been cited on suspicion of endangering their health by leaving them in the vehicle.
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Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies were called about 4 p.m. Thursday to the parking lot of an apartment complex in the 2500 block of Fair Oaks Boulevard to rescue the dogs. A passer-by had reported seeing four pit bulls inside a blue sport-utility vehicle parked in the sun.
The citizen also provided a license plate of the SUV. The Sheriff’s Department said Monday that the deputy arrived within 10 minutes and began trying to get the dogs out.
The temperature outside the SUV was 95 degrees. All four windows were cracked open, which allowed the deputy to reach inside and unlock a door.
Courtney, 34, was visiting someone at the complex when he left the dogs unattended, deputies said. He was cited on suspicion of violating Penal Code 597.7a: “No person shall leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.”
A first violation that results in “great bodily injury” can be punished by a fine of up to $500, a jail sentence as long as six months or both. The charge will be re-assessed once staff from Sacramento County Animal Control, the lead agency in the case, completes the investigation.
Efforts to reach Courtney by phone Monday were unsuccessful.
Dave Dickinson, director of Sacramento County’s Department of Animal Care and Regulation, said the deaths were the first of dogs left in hot cars that the department has handled this year. He estimated the dogs had been in the vehicle about two hours. Although the windows were cracked, the dogs had been left without food or water, and Dickinson said officers had been on scene for about an hour before the owner came out of an apartment and acknowledged that the dogs were his.
With a reported outdoor temperature of 95 degrees, the temperature inside the vehicle could have reached 120 degrees within 20 minutes, Dickinson said.
The department starts receiving calls reporting dogs left in hot cars around April, he said, and during the summer it responds to two or three such calls a day. Most cases involve owners who left their pets in the car for a few minutes while they ran into a store, and the cars are typically gone by the time officers arrive. But Dickinson stressed that it is never a good idea to leave a dog in the car unless the air conditioning is running.
Patton said this was the first heat-stroke case she had treated since coming to Sacramento in January. She treated numerous cases as an emergency vet in the Los Angeles area, typically involving dogs whose owners had taken them on long walks on hot days. People don’t realize that dogs don’t perspire and can’t cool their bodies as people do, she said.
Patton advised anyone administering aid to a dog suffering from heat stroke to cool the animal down slowly. She warned against hosing down a dog in distress, saying this can cause shock. Instead, give the dog water, wet its paws and immediately take it to a veterinarian.