CLEARWATER — On the verge of another sweltering summer, officials urge pet owners to be mindful of the dangers of leaving their pooch inside a hot car.
Statistics are scarce, so it’s difficult to pin down precisely how many dogs die that way every year. But there’s ample evidence to indicate the seriousness of the situation. Clearwater police say calls about overheated canines come in to the station frequently, especially during the summer.
“When you hear them, it hits home what a serious problem this is,” Sgt. Joel Morley said.
He speaks from experience. In March 2013, as the 12-year city police veteran worked off duty at Clearwater Beach, he was alerted to a dog left in a car in the Pier 60 parking lot. It was after 6 p.m. and not yet summertime, but the pit bull was in obvious distress after sitting inside with the windows rolled up and no water for at least 20 minutes, he said.
“People have to remember if it’s 70 to 75 degrees outside, it’s 90 to 95 degrees in the vehicle,” Morley explained.
He monitored the situation for nearly an hour, waiting for the owner to come back, then used his collapsible baton to shatter a window and get the dog out.
The owner turned out to be a visitor from Tennessee who was off drinking on the beach, Morley said. When she returned, she was confused to see a crowd surrounding her car and upset her window was broken. She showed little concern for the dog’s welfare, the officer recalled.
“That’s when I arrested her on animal cruelty charges. The 70 to 75 people who were there gave me a standing ovation.”
Morley’s account is similar to countless other tales that pour in from all over the country, according to Sharie Lesniack of My Dog Is Cool, an organization dedicated to spreading the word about the dangers of leaving dogs in hot vehicles.
“Every year, dogs die after being locked inside cars while their guardians shop or run quick errands,” she said. “But these tragic deaths are entirely preventable if dog people only knew the facts.”
Lesniack explained that hot cars “are death traps for dogs. When it is 72 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can reach 116 degrees within an hour — even with windows cracked. When it is 85 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can climb to 102 degrees in 10 minutes and 120 degrees in 30 minutes.
“A dog’s normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees. Dogs can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 degrees for only a short time before they experience brain and nerve damage, heart problems — and even death. Dogs cannot sweat like humans and cool off by panting.”
Both Lesniack and Morley urge people who spot pets left inside vehicles to alert authorities right away.
“... Please call your local police department, animal control agency or humane society immediately,” Lesniack said. “It’s not cool to leave a dog in a hot car.”