Too Hot For Spot: Leaving dogs in hot cars? ‘You can’t do it’


BRATTLEBORO -- Signs alerting people to the danger of leaving dogs in hot cars are being put up around the state.

WKVT radio personality Fish initiated a campaign for the station called "Too Hot For Spot," advising listeners that a car can heat up to 115 degrees on an 80 degree day within 20 to 30 minutes.

"I know it’s hard but people just got to know. You can’t do it," he said.

Part of the campaign includes printing small hand-outs that can be placed underneath a person’s windshield. This can avoid confrontation as the issue is known for creating arguments.

Supporters of the campaign believe that this can be an unintentional form of animal cruelty. Dogs cannot sweat so organs can fail when the heat is too much. A dog’s brain can also fail when in intense heat.

Brattleboro resident Barry Adams was crucial in getting signs posted around the town in recent years. He said getting signs at big box stores has proven to be more difficult. But those stores, he says, have many cases of dogs dying in hot cars.

"In April and May this year, there have been many cases," he said. "It’s a situation that’s really out of control. Change is coming about really because of grassroots efforts. I think the Internet is fueling it."

According to Adams, there recently was a case in Canada where a dog walker left five dogs in a car where they died and another in Alabama where six dogs died.

Adams was invited by Carol Scafuro, another advocate, to Springfield to discuss the issue. He writes articles on the subject and has met with the citizen police committee in Brattleboro in the past.

Scafuro and Mary McCallum have put signs up around Ludlow and Chester but also saw that a sign was posted at One Stop Country Pet Supply in Brattleboro, where Scafuro shops.

"We’re determined to put Vermont on the map," she said.

The signs are made of metal and look similar to ones that indicate where handicapped parking is located. Adams had signs approved for the municipal parking areas in Brattleboro.

One of the ways that Scafuro has found support involved asking business owners to sponsor the signs so that the name of the business is printed on the sign. It was a form of advertising but also promoting the cause.

"We want to encourage people not to even bring their dogs with them at this time of year," she said.

Some supporters have said they would break a window to let the animal out. This is not advised by police, however. Most police officers will find the owner and use the event as an opportunity to educate.

"We would recommend that they call because we can try and track down the owner then we can take measures to get the dog out of the car," said Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark. "I would advocate that people do not break windows in someone else’s car even though they’re doing it for the well-being of an animal. They do not have the authority to break someone else’s property."

There are databases available to police officers where they can find out whether there are other ways to get inside the vehicle. Sometimes, a person may see a small window and assume that it’s the cheapest to replace and it can end up be the most expensive, Clark said.

At the time of the interview, he was not aware of any recent incidents involving dogs being stuck in hot cars reported at the Windham County Sheriff’s Department.

Clark’s advice: Leave the dog at home or make arrangements to keep the dog cool. He said leaving the air conditioning on while the car is unattended is a separate violation of law.

Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn says an officer from his department will typically attempt to contact the owner but his officers are also aware that the heat can cause permanent injury to the dog.

"It can be 80 in the shade and it can be distressing to the dog," he said. "People are trying to do what’s best for that animal. It’s a real touchy issue with some folks."

Since the animal control officer is a part-time position in the town, other officers have learned about going on these kinds of calls.

In general, Wrinn sees more people are conscious of the issue. Before a person leaves their vehicle, an officer or citizen may say something to the dog owner.

"People are starting to take responsibility and point it out," added Wrinn. "They say, ‘It’s not safe.’"

Events in town, such as the July 4 fireworks and the Strolling of Heifers, advertise that pets should stay at home.

"We have no national authoritative statement on this problem," said Adams. "We are dealing with this police department by police department, town by town, state to state and even country to country."

He believes the American Veterinary Medical Association would be a good entity for that statement to come from.

The heat rise dynamics in cars and veterinary science on dog physiology, Adams said, shows that the issue is real. However, the damage done to the dog can be difficult to pinpoint.

"We don’t know how long the dog’s been in the car and the level of distress the dog’s in. We don’t know what point things turn against the dog. Even if the dog doesn’t die at the scene, it can die of chronic organ failure," he said. "What’s tragic is we have the information but we’re not articulating the problem or guiding the public on how to respond to it. It can be done."


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