Hot cars no place for pets

by Town Reminder

Boils down to animal cruelty – a felony

By Kristin Will
Staff Writer

SOUTH HADLEY – It may be the dog days of summer, but that doesn’t mean pet owners should subject their furry family members to the season’s sweltering days.
With temperatures in Western Massachusetts rising to the nineties and staying there as of late, it’s important to realize the affects of summer on those who can’t exactly express just how hot they are – pets. And the worst thing pet owners can do in the summertime is leave their animals in the car.

“It’s against the law,” said South Hadley Animal Control Officer Robert Whelihan. “It’s cruelty to animals. You can’t leave your pet in the car.”
Regardless of how little time the pet may be left in a vehicle, leaving the air conditioning on or leave the windows down, it all boils – literally and figuratively – down to animal cruelty, which is considered a five-year felony in Massachusetts.
Cars become ovens during the summertime, in or out of a heat wave. According to a study of 16 vehicles conducted between the summer months of May and August by the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences, the average temperature inside of a vehicle rises 19 degrees within 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, the temperature rises 29 degrees. After 30 minutes, the temperature rises by 34 degrees. And after one hour, the temperature rises an average 43 degrees. The study found leaving the windows partially open does little to reduce the vehicle’s interior temperature.
Coloring of a dashboard and seat matter too – the darker the color, the hotter it will become. A dark dashboard or seat can reach temperatures between 180 to 200 degrees in the sun.
“You can’t leave your pet in the car – not even for three minutes with the windows open,” said Whelihan. “If they [residents] have to go into a store, they need to take the pet home.”
It doesn’t take long for a pet to overheat or experience heat stroke when left in a vehicle. Symptoms of a dog in trouble include excessive drooling, heavy panting, rapid or difficulty breathing, staggering, weakness and disorientation. A heat stroke occurs when a pet’s temperature rises above 106 degrees.
Should residents come across a pet left inside of a vehicle during the summer, the MSPCA suggests attempting to locate the pet owner as quickly as possible. Ask employees of the business in which the vehicle and animal are parked to page the vehicle owner.
Whelihan advises residents to also call the South Hadley Police Department at 538-8231. The police will contact the town’s animal control department and both groups will arrive at the scene to assess the situation.
“If I feel the pet is in distress and the car is locked, I’m going to break the window and I’m going to get the pet out and the owner is going to pay the consequences,” said Whelihan. “If there is any way we can get into the car without damaging it, we will, but we’re not going to let a pet die.”
Officials will remove the animal safely from the hot vehicle to a shaded location if possible and slowly cool it in cool, but not cold, water to gradually reduce its body heat. A fan directed to the wet areas of the pet’s body will increase cooling. Finally, the animal will be removed to a veterinarian where it will be treated for possible dehydration or other serious medical problems resulting from its hot environment. Animals affected by heat-stroke can die in minutes without immediate, proper attention.
After removing a pet from a hot vehicle and speaking with the vehicle and/or pet owner, Whelihan said South Hadley police would turn over the case to the MSPCA law enforcement division. Charges of animal cruelty would result if the pet owner was found to be negligent.
Punishment for being found guilty of animal cruelty results in imprisonment of no more than five years in a state prison or imprisonment in a house of correction for no more than 2.5 years coupled with a fine of up to $2,500.