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Police, vets urge pet owners to leave dogs at home on hot days

Posted July 2, 2019 6:24 p.m. EDT

— A dog owner was charged last weekend with animal cruelty after police officers had to rescue the dog from a hot car in a Walmart parking lot in Cary.

Chuck Haggist, animal services supervisor for the Cary Police Department, said he receives about two calls a day – four on weekends – about dogs left in parked cars. If he spots a pet in distress, he's ready to take action.

"We'll break the window, remove the dog and end up charging someone," Haggist said Tuesday, adding that most cases are outside grocery stores, shopping malls or big-box retailers like Walmart or Target.

"People take their dog, go to the grocery store, and then they get stuck in line, and they're in there for half an hour, an hour, when they were meant to be there for five minutes picking up one thing," he said. "In this 90-degree heat here that we’re having, it wouldn’t take 15 minutes and your dog’s overheated in the car. Even with the windows cracked, it still would overheat in the car."

Dr. Christine Culler, a veterinarian at Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas in Cary, said dogs can quickly experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke inside a car.

"They don’t sweat like us, so really, the only way they can cool off is to pant, and with that panting, they actually get hotter," Culler said. "Some dogs don’t cool off as well with panting, so even just lying and baking in the sun can be enough [to cause problems]."

Pet owners should keep dogs inside during the hottest part of the day, or at least keep them in the shade, she said. Dogs that appear to be gasping for air, cannot stop panting or are lethargic after being outside likely need medical attention, she said.

"If you have any concerns that your dog is overheating, first thing you can do is bring them inside to cool conditions – air conditioning, put a fan on them, try to get them a little bit of a bath," Culler said. "Try and cool them off a little bit, and then take them to your vet as soon as possible."

Haggist said he and his officers use a thermometer when on patrol to check temperatures inside cars, which he said can be 40 degrees hotter than the temperature outside.

Current Temperatures, DMA

Their simple rule of thumb for pet owners: 7-0, they don't go.

"Anything above 70 degrees is too hot to be transporting your animal out anywhere," he said. "Whenever it’s above 90, 95 degrees, we don’t get that many calls because people understand that it’s too hot. The problem we have is whenever it’s 80 or 85 degrees. People think, 'It’s still kind of cool. I can take my dog,' and then it still gets too hot."

Donald Berrigan, who was playing with his dog, Maggie, at Oakwood Dog Park in Raleigh, said he doesn't understand the compulsion other pet owners have to to their dogs in the car while running errands, especially on hot days.

"There's really no need for it. Your dog doesn't have to go with you somewhere if you're going to be somewhere for any amount of time," Berrigan said.