Op-Ed: Dogs in unattended cars—an appeal

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Most, if not all, pet owners love their dogs, cats, birds, etc., and sincerely care about their health and well-being. However, even the most conscientious of us can underestimate the health consequences of leaving our pet in an unattended car, even on a warm day (or a cold day, for that matter). Of course, many of us do, indeed, take precautions to ensure that our doggies will be just fine in the car while we shop, thank you: Outside temperature moderate, windows sufficiently open to allow for good cross ventilation, bowl of water in place, etc. 

Unfortunately, there is a subset of folks who place their egos before their pet’s health. They can never do wrong and they will adamantly let you know of this factoid, should you even utter a peep vis-à-vis their judgment. Consider the absurd priorities of certain people, to wit: One is typically thanked for one’s concern when advising an individual that their headlights were left on. And, more times than not, said appreciative individual would immediately dash to their car to save their battery. 

By contrast, even upon gently advising someone that their dog’s health may be compromised, it is not unexpected that one is met with an angry retort, ranging from the casual “I know” (with most owners taking zero corrective action), to rude responses, such as a terse, “Who asked you?” or an angry, “Mind your own business.” Apparently, the state of their vehicle’s precious battery is more important than their dog’s life. 

On one memorable (albeit unbelievable) occasion, we delicately mentioned to a woman, who was shopping with her grade school child, that their little doggie’s health might be at risk. Only a single window was barely cracked open in her SUV; and, she was gone for 30 minutes. We got the canonical angry response, “that’s none of your business.” When we suggested to her that she try an experiment by staying in her car under the exact same conditions as she just exposed her dog to (temperature, time, etc.), we got a completely unexpected, very loud, terse and irrational response, “You’re ugly and you’re fat!” 

We can predict what the reader is thinking, but, remarkably, you would be incorrect. As it turned out, this was not the child’s remark, but amazingly, her mother’s words! Moreover, this juvenile response was advanced in the presence of her own kid! Even her doggie had a stunned look upon witnessing this woman’s ridiculous outburst. Talk about role models… 

Fortunately, nowadays many store managers and police/security personnel are very supportive about this issue and will take the appropriate action. 

In fact, since 2006, there has been legal clout in place to protect our doggies left in unattended vehicles (excerpt from California Penal Code, Section 597.7): 

“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.” 

In their preamble, the California Legislator declared (excerpt): 

“Leaving companion animals unattended inside closed vehicles in the heat, even for short periods of time, has caused severe injury and death to animals. Moderately warm temperatures outside can quickly lead to deadly temperatures inside a closed car, for example, within one hour an outside temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit can cause unhealthful conditions inside a vehicle that can adversely affect the health, safety, or well-being of an animal. With the vehicle windows left slightly open, an outside temperature of 85 degrees can cause a temperature of 102 degrees inside a vehicle within 10 minutes, and 120 degrees within half of an hour. A healthy dog, whose normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees, can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 for only a short time before suffering brain damage or death.” 

So, pet owners, please take heed, as your dog completely relies on you for its care: Next time you decide to leave your little one (or big one) in your unattended vehicle, even for “just a second,” take a moment to evaluate the conditions under which your pet will be exposed—and put yourself in your animal’s snout or beak. Lesson learned (hopefully).