Myrtle Beach police illustrate dangers of leaving pets in cars

akelley@thesunnews.comAugust 1, 2012 

— It may be called the dog days of summer, but Myrtle Beach officials say that doesn’t mean Fido has to suffer.

The city’s animal control officers have twisted the use of decoy patrol vehicles meant to slow down traffic into a campaign to educate the public on the dangers of leaving pets in cars. A fake dog is set up in a car with a visible thermometer and sign showing penalties for the mistreatment of animals.

The thermometer inside the car at the Food Lion on 13th Avenue South in Myrtle Beach was beyond its 120 degree max on Tuesday although it was only 87 degrees outside.

Steven Trott, an animal control officer, said it’s a crime to leave a dog alone in a vehicle and could mean charges for mistreatment of animals carrying a maximum fine of $1,092 and/or 30 days imprisonment.

“It’s putting your animal in an environment where it’s unsafe,” he said. “People don’t realize that they’re putting their dog in danger.”

Often he said people think it’s OK to run into a store for 10 minutes, but the temperature inside a car could climb as much as 20 degrees in that time frame, meaning 70 degrees outside turns quickly to 90 inside.

“Even if the windows are cracked there’s not enough ventilation to keep the dogs cool,” Trott said. “It’s like a greenhouse … the heat just exponentially grows and grows. Even if you have water in the car the water will be so hot the dog won’t want to drink it.”

The best option is leaving the dog at home if a pit stop is a possibility, he said.

Keeping the vehicle and the air conditioning running may seem like a good alternative, but leaving a running car unattended is against state law. Trott said if it weren’t illegal that could help to temper the heat, but not for long because the air conditioning works best while the car is moving.

Animals locked inside vehicles accounts for about 25 percent of all animal cruelty service calls, Trott said. The unusual public service announcement has helped lower that number, he said.

Besides a potential fine and jail time a judge could order someone to give up their dog, Trott said.

Though animal cruelty charges may be filed, Trott said it really can’t be compared to other cruelty crimes like the recent acts in Georgetown County, where three dogs were bound with duct tape and abandoned at the International Paper Canal. All three were found by fishermen. Two died.

Trott said owners aren’t necessarily intentionally endangering their pet when they leave them in a car. In some cases people simply don’t realize how quickly the mercury can rise.

Actress Elisabetta Canalis teamed with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a commercial to share the dangers. She sits locked in a car on a hot day. She looks scared and desperate to get out of the vehicle. Her point is to illustrate how a dog might feel when trapped inside a vehicle.

Ernie Ward, who operates Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., also filmed a video demonstrating why veterinarians are always telling pet owners not to leave animals in cars.

After spending 30 minutes inside a car with four windows cracked, he said he understood beyond the warning he issues to pet owners.

By the five minute mark of the video, he said it's already 100 degrees and the heat is “oppressive.” At 10 minutes and 106 degrees, he said it was unbearable and the cracked windows didn’t help provide any breeze.

“There’s a breeze outside and it’s very frustrating because I can actually see the trees, the wind blowing,” he said in the video. “And yet even with all four windows cracked between 1.5 inch and 2 inches there is absolutely no breeze in this car. So if I were a little dog left out here maybe I’m barking.

“I’m very nervous I can only imagine what the core temperature would be out there.”

Ward said he couldn’t imagine how a dog, which can’t sweat the way humans do, would feel.

The high temperatures carry the risk of heat stroke, which Trott said is nearly irreversible in dogs and frequently is fatal.

Dogs will salivate and pant, and if left too long will enter heat stroke likely passing out and may begin to seize, Trott said.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.

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