In the Heat of the Moment

Saturday afternoon. You’re on your way home from the park where your furry friend and you just had the romp of your lives. She bobs her head to one side and shoots you that thankful look: eyes at half mast, jaws slightly agape; the closest thing to a smile she can muster.

While driving, the pharmacy catches your eye. Your meds should be ready by now. You duck in the driveway and zoom into a cosmic-made shady spot.

“I’ll just be a second, baby!” you tell your pet, confident that you will, indeed, be right back. The shade and fading heat of the sun shouldn’t be a problem, but you crack your windows two inches – just in case.

You finally snake to the head of the line and learn that your scrips are not ready yet. No problem. There’s an empty folding chair with your name on it. You plop down, pull out your smart phone and scroll through your mail.

Outside, people file past your car. One notices that your baby is lying on her side panting heavily. Another person is drawn to the scene. Should they break a window? Run into the pharmacy? Call the authorities?

What happens in the end? You won’t know until you get back to your car. But you may wish that you never stopped on the way home.

Some variation of this scenario plays out tens of thousands of times each year. No one who leaves their pet in a vehicle thinks they are being neglectful or malicious. Especially since summer isn’t here yet.

But the temperature inside of a parked car can skyrocket above the ambient temperature. An independent study by McLaren, et al (2005), showed that the heat in a car’s interior can rise 20 degrees above the ambient temperature in 10 minutes, 30 degrees in 20 minutes and more than 40 degrees in an hour. "Cracking" the windows did not decrease the interior temperature.

So even if it’s “just” 72 degrees outside, the temperature inside your car can rise to 92 degrees in 10 minutes, 102 degrees in 20 minutes. During our San Fernando Valley summers – when the mercury can easily reach 100 – a car’s interior can top a blistering 140 degrees within an hour.

Needless to say, the results can be disastrous for your pet: heat prostration and death may follow. Through your own “benign neglect,” you may lose a loyal and trusted friend – and have a tough time living with yourself.

The law may have a hard time living with you, too. Sixteen states have specific laws against leaving animals in parked cars under threatening conditions and local ordinances vary. Penalties range up to a combination of one year’s imprisonment and $1,000. Even in states without such laws, you may still be prosecuted under that state’s anti-cruelty statutes.

At least one shelter is campaigning feverishly to educate pet owners on this issue. Working in conjunction with the city, Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter has posted signs in parking lots featuring a silhouette of a dog inside a car with the reminder, “FORGET SOMETHING?” A public service ad in the Desert Sun newspaper last month showed a stark image of a dog sitting on a roasting pan and the inscription: “You wouldn’t put your dog in the oven.”

If you see an animal unattended in a car, look for signs of heat stroke: heavy panting, sweaty paw prints on upholstery, restlessness, a purple tongue, vomiting and uncoordinated movements, to name a few. Get witnesses to the situation and TAKE ACTION! By whatever means necessary, remove the animal from the car, take her to an air conditioned place, apply cool compresses to her chest, belly and groin area and call a vet, immediately.

When it comes to running errands with your pets, the best advice is: “Love ‘em and leave ‘em – at home.”