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Dogs in hot cars - why does it keep happening?

Dog sticking head out of a car

These days it seems like there is great awareness of the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars, but sadly such incidents are still happening, with unnecessary consequences to the health of the pets involved. All too often, the SPCA officers are at the frontlines of such emergencies concerning animal welfare. We sat down with Eileen Drever, Senior Officer Protection and Stakeholder Relations at the BC SPCA to chat with her about the important work they do, and why this tragic scenario still keeps coming up.

Hi Eileen, thank you for your time. First of all, I know you’ve been with the BC SPCA for over 43 years, so thank you for your service to animals in our province.  How many times do you think you have encountered the issue of dogs being left in hot cars throughout this time?

Given the number of news articles, and amount of education provided on this issue over the years, why do you think that we are still seeing incidents like this making the news?

Well, I do believe that the vast majority of people who leave their pets in cars don’t intend to put them in a situation that causes them to overheat and suffer. Pets are family members, and people are increasingly taking them along with them when they run errands for example, and aren’t thinking it through when they need to run into the store and leave them unattended in the car. 

People just don’t realize how hot the interior of a car gets in a very short period of time – sometimes as little as ten minutes, even if the car is parked in the shade with the windows down. Senior dogs and those with flatter faces are particularly susceptible to heat. 

And could you explain exactly what problems occur when pets are left in vehicles that overheat?

Yes, many people don’t realize that even a few minutes left in a hot car can become harmful or even life-threatening to dogs.  Dogs can’t release heat by sweating as humans do, so their internal body temperature rises more quickly.

The result can be heatstroke with exaggerated panting, rapid or erratic pulse, salivation, weakness and muscle tremors, lack of coordination, convulsions or vomiting, and eventually collapse.

Given that most people would never want to put their pet into this situation, what are some of the biggest mistakes that people may make?

  • Parking in shade, not realizing that the sun will move and the vehicle won’t remain in shade
  • Not appreciating that while it is cool when heading out, at a later time, or in a different place, the temperature could be significantly warmer
  • Losing track of time, or getting distracted, and leaving the animal in the vehicle for longer than anticipated
  • Never intending to leave a dog in the car, but finding that their destination excludes dogs resulting in feeling like there is no choice.
  • Thinking that their pet would be better coming with them, rather than left at home where they would be more comfortable.

The BC SPCA animal protection service is all too often at the frontline of dealing with situations like dogs found overheating in cars. How does this impact your staff?

As animal lovers and advocates, it’s always heart-wrenching to have to deal with an animal in distress and possibly fighting for its life. I think it’s especially difficult when it is a perfectly healthy animal, in a totally preventable situation. These incidents also require a significant amount of time which could be directed to the many other animals that desperately need our help.

One man left his dog in his vehicle for a short time at the airport, as he was picking someone up. The flight was delayed, and when he returned to his vehicle he discovered his dog had died.

Dog left in a car

A local dog walker left six dogs in her vehicle outside a business in Richmond. All dogs perished. She was charged pursuant to the Criminal Code of Canada with injuring an animal, causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal, and failing to provide the necessities of life to an animal. She pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in the deaths of six dogs in her care and was sentenced to six months in jail. She was prohibited to own an animal for 10 years and received a lifetime ban on caring for any animal in a paid capacity. 

That is truly horrific to hear. It must be very hard on your frontline teams to deal with these types of calls. Of course, the hope is that reporting animals left in cars can help prevent such tragedies. If someone comes across a pet in a hot vehicle that they are concerned about, what should they do?

First, note the license plate, vehicle colour, make and model, and ask the managers of nearby businesses to page the owner to return to their vehicle immediately. If the animal is not showing signs of distress, but you are concerned, you may wish to stay by the vehicle to monitor the situation until the owner returns.

If the animal is showing signs of heatstroke or other distress symptoms, call your local animal control agency, police, RCMP or the BC SPCA Animal Helpline at 1-855-622-7722 as soon as possible.

Consider carrying a kit in your vehicle (bottled water, small bowl, small battery-powered fan, and a towel that can be soaked in water), and if a window is partially open, hydrate the animal as you wait for an emergency response.

It is NOT recommended to break a glass window to get an animal out of a hot vehicle. Only RCMP, local police and BC SPCA Special Provincial Constables have the authority to enter a vehicle lawfully to help a pet in critical distress. You are not only putting yourself at risk of harm when you break a glass window, but you also risk harming the dog.

Any last comments or advice?

Please leave your pets at home and don’t risk putting them or yourself through the trauma of having them overheat in a vehicle. Now that you know the risks, please also spread the word and consider putting up posters or a campaign decal on your car, available on SPCA’s website, and help reduce the number of calls for hot animals that our team receives this summer!

Concerned about leaving an animal who has anxiety at home? The TELUS Health MyPet app can help. Book a consultation today to discuss options for managing pet anxiety and stress, so you can feel secure leaving your dog in the comfort of home.1

1. Not applicable to all cases. A veterinarian or veterinary technician may decide that an in-person visit is required to ensure your pet receives appropriate care. Most provinces require veterinarians and veterinary technicians to provide after-hours care. TELUS Health MyPet recommends seeing your regular veterinarian or veterinary technician first when possible. For those who do not currently have a regular veterinarian or veterinary technician, or when care is not accessible, we are here to support you and your pet.The TELUS Health MyPet veterinarians practicing in British Columbia are working in affiliation with Little Paws Animal Clinic in Richmond, B.C. TELUS Health MyPet connects users with veterinarians affiliated with the Pet Telemedicine Veterinary Care clinic in Ontario.