Pets Left in Cars: Why This Puppy Didn't Have to Die

Posted May 31, 2007 11:37 a.m. EDT

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to the summer, has already brought a heat-related pet tragedy. A puppy died after being confined in a car for 24 hours.

A Raleigh resident is under investigation for shutting the puppy in her car and then leaving town. Raleigh Animal Control is currently investigating what charges will be filed.

The dog was brought to the SPCA by Raleigh Animal Control. The SPCA staff veterinarian examined the puppy and confirmed that little if anything could be done to save the dog's life.

Temperatures in the car would have risen to over 110 degrees farenheit in less than one hour. This temperature is deadly to pets and children. There is no doubt the puppy died a slow and painful death over the length of time it was in the car. When he arrived at the SPCA he was suffering from DIC or disseminated intravascular coagulation as a result of heat exhaustion.

With DIC the blood starts to clot and then bleed out into the skin. Upon arrival at the SPCA, the puppy was bleeding into his gums, his belly and his rear. His skin had become so compromised after so many hours in the heat that a fly trapped in the car with the dog had laid eggs in the dog's skin and maggots were infesting the dog’s lower back.

How did the dog make it to the SPCA? A neighbor saw the dog in distress and called animal control. Although the call came too late to save this puppy, the call did come. Twelve hours earlier and it might have saved the puppy’s life.

What this puppy’s life and death can teach us is to be proactive. Leaving a dog in a hot car is illegal in Wake County and calling the police or animal control is the right thing to do. Read below for exact information on what to do next time you see a dog in a car this summer.

The SPCA needs your help to be community advocates for these animals who cannot call for help.

Know the Law.
In Wake County, North Carolina the Animal Control Ordinance includes the following in its definition of abuse: “Placing or confining an animal or allowing an animal to be placed or confined in a motor vehicle under such conditions or for such a period of time as to cause physical pain, suffering or death to the animal due to temperature, lack of food or drink, or such other conditions.”

So, what can you do to help? If you see a pet in a car, follow these suggestions:

  • Write down a description of the pet, the car, and the license plate number. Ask businesses to announce over a PA system that the guardian of the pet needs to return to the vehicle.
  • If the guardian of the pet is not located or does not return to the vehicle, and the pet is in distress, area animal control asks that you call 911.

Animal Control requests that you stay in the area to help them more easily identify the location of the animal. However, they ask that you refrain from engaging the owner. Often officers called out to help a distressed animal must first deal with altercations between guardians and concerned citizens. For your own safety and that of the pet, report the situation, be available for locating the animal, and avoid confrontation with the guardian.

How will I know if the animal is in distress or suffering from heat exhaustion?
If you're unsure about the animal's status, here are a few symptoms that indicate distress.

Restlessness ,excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark tongue, rapid pulse, fever, vomiting, glazed eyes, dizziness, or lack of coordination.

In cases where the animal is in distress, do the following:

  • Apply ice packs or cold towels to the head, neck, and chest or preferably immerse the animal in cool (not cold) water.
  • Try to get them to drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes.
  • Take them directly to a veterinarian.