By Chris Macy

If only people would sit in their cars for 10 minutes with the windows rolled up within an inch of the top. Be sure to put on a fur coat. Cracked windows and parking in the shade makes little difference to the interior temperature of a car. Even windows fully rolled down makes little difference, but at least your dog could jump out if it’s not restrained. If it’s a beautiful day and the temperature outside feels delightful to you, be aware that it is definitely not delightful inside your car – it’s a furnace. It can take only minutes for an animal to collapse from heatstroke, suffer brain damage or death.

I would like to think that not leaving a dog or any animal in a hot car is a matter of common sense, but it appears that to many it isn’t. Maybe if people would see for themselves how hot it becomes, and how quickly, they’d never subject their pet to this experience again.

April 12 – the first day this year I reported dogs left in a car. April is well before the time most people think they have to worry about it becoming too hot in the car for their dogs, but they would be wrong. The temperature outside certainly is a factor, especially the hotter it gets – but the sun shining down on that metal box that becomes an oven that is your car can heat up the interior even when it’s not that hot outside. Dogs don’t sweat to keep cool like we do. They pant, and if all they have to breathe is hot air, it can turn deadly. Here in the sunny Central Coast, that is almost all year round. Now it’s July and more crucial than ever.

It can take as little as 10 minutes for your dog to be overcome by heatstroke. If it’s 80 degrees outside, the interior of your car can reach 120 degrees within 10 minutes. If it’s 90 degrees, the interior of your car can reach 150 degrees and upwards within 10 minutes. Are you really going to get your shopping done in less than 10 minutes?

Signs of heat stress are heavy panting, restlessness, glazed eyes, rapid pulse, dizziness, vomiting, deep red or purple tongue, lethargy, lack of appetite, lack of coordination. If you see signs of heatstroke in your dog you need to immediately cool its body down. Do so by getting it to the shade or air conditioning. Lower its body temperature gradually by applying a cold towel or ice packs to the head, neck or chest or immersing it in cool water, not cold water. Provide water to drink. Then get your dog to the veterinarian immediately.

If you see a dog in distress, SA Bill 797 (PDF) allows citizens to liberate an animal without fear of reprisal provided they can’t find the owner. They must first contact law enforcement and wait for them to show up. I’d like to suggest that by the time a dog is showing that kind of distress, it might be too late to follow that protocol, as well-intentioned as it is.

Many stores allow dogs in their store if they are leashed or in a cart. Trader Joe’s has a dog porch in the shade with bowls of water where you can park your dog while you are shopping. But the best thing would be if you just left your dog at home.