The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region has an urgent message for Colorado pet owners: Please don’t leave your pet in your car.
To drive that message home, an animal law enforcement officer demonstrated the effects of sitting in a non-operating vehicle on a hot summer day: As temperatures reached a high of almost 90 degrees, Sgt. Tim Rice on Monday spent 30 minutes in a parked car.
Thousands of pets die in hot vehicles each year in the U.S., according to the ASPCA. In the Pikes Peak region, humane society officers have responded to more than 200 calls about dogs left in hot cars since the beginning of May, officials said. One officer recently discovered four dogs that had died from heat exposure.
The issue became personal for Rice last summer when he responded to an emergency call and found two dead dogs in a vehicle. The owner was eventually charged with animal cruelty.
“He was already devastated by the death of his dogs,” Rice said. “Having to deal with a court case afterward made it much worse.”
Dogs don’t have the natural cooling mechanisms that humans have, according to humane society veterinarian Jennifer Rainey. Because they can’t sweat, dogs primarily cool themselves by panting, which doesn’t do them much good if they’re trapped in a 100-degree vehicle with no circulating air.
“A lot of people think that opening a couple of windows or parking the car in the shade will make all the difference in the world,” Rainey said. “But studies have shown that that does very little to cool down the car, or to help with circulation when the car’s completely stopped.”
It doesn’t take very long for an inert vehicle to become dangerously hot, Rainey said.
“It can take 5 to 10 minutes for the temperature to reach triple digits” inside a parked vehicle, she said. “In fewer than 30 minutes, it’s not unusual for the temperature to hit over 120 degrees. I think there’s a lot of confusion as to how quickly it happens.”
For the demonstration, Rice tried to mirror the conditions he typically finds during a hot car emergency call. The vehicle was parked partly in the shade, and two of the windows were slightly open. It was about 3 p.m., and outside temperatures had reached 88 degrees.
A digital temperature gauge recorded 90 degrees in the vehicle when Rice got in and shut the door. In five minutes, the temperature had climbed to 100 degrees. Ten minutes after that, the thermometer read 105 degrees, and the inside of the vehicle was “very uncomfortable,” Rice said. The temperature eventually reached 108 degrees.
“He’s able to sweat, and that will help cool his body,” Rainey said while Rice was in the vehicle. “Dogs can’t do that. Also, if he really needs to get out of the car, he can. Dogs can’t do that either.”
After 30 minutes, Rice emerged from the vehicle drenched in sweat.
“I feel very relieved to be out in the nice air, catching a little breeze,” he said. “This was a controlled situation, but it was super uncomfortable and super hot inside that vehicle.”
Animals aren’t usually left in cars out of cruelty, Rice said. But a moment of carelessness could result in the loss of a beloved pet.
“We know a lot of people don’t do this to do harm, or to be mean to their animals,” said Rice, a 6-year veteran of animal law enforcement. “They’re just not thinking, and they’re not aware of how dangerous it actually is. On these summer days, it’s best to just leave your dog at home.”
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