As the days get longer and the temperature rises, the issue of pets in distress becomes prevalent.
In the first half of May, the BC SPCA responded to 151 complaints of dogs left in hot cars. It’s a disturbing spike in numbers over the same period in 2015, when 114 calls were received.
Comox Valley SPCA manager Emily Priestley said the problem exists in the Valley, the same as anywhere else.
“I can’t give you exact (local) numbers…, but when it’s hot out, we get calls on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s very, very common.”
According to the BC SPCA, 10 minutes is all it takes for your dog to become overheated and distressed on a warm day. Even parked in the shade, with the windows rolled down slightly, is not enough to alleviate the problem.
“My recommendation is, if the sun is shining, don’t do it,” said Priestley. “It’s really hard, because the inside temperature of the car is going to be hotter than outside.”
Empowering bylaw in Nanaimo
Last summer, Nanaimo passed a bylaw amendment allowing for a $500 fine to be issued for anyone leaving a pet in a vehicle with an internal temperature exceeding 23C. (Heat guns are used to determine the interior temperature of vehicles.)
In Nanaimo, a bylaw officer coming across a pet in distress will contact animal control, as well as RCMP, and all three agencies have the option to write a $500 ticket, meaning delinquent pet owners could be faced with $1,500 in fines for leaving Fido in the car while they do their errands. They can also take immediate action to alleviate the situation.
“If it goes above [23C], the control officer has the right to remove the animals [by whatever means necessary],” said Priestley.
She added the current local bylaws are not nearly as empowering for authorities as what Nanaimo has adopted.
“Where it gets tricky for us, is we are not legally allowed to enter a vehicle. RCMP can, but we can’t. So when we attend, we basically just monitor the situation, but if we think the animal is going into distress then we would have to call the RCMP. Our cruelty investigators could enter a vehicle but I believe they have to have a search warrant to do so. So municipalities where such bylaws are enacted, that’s really helpful, because it gives the animal control guy, or the bylaw officer, the ability to go into the car and remove the animal. A lot of the time that involves breaking windows.”
The NDP proposed new legislation in Victoria earlier this month, allowing municipalities more power when dealing with the situation.
Priestley said the best thing to do if you see an animal in distress is to call the cruelty hotline call centre at 1-855-622-7722 (1-855 -6BCSPCA).
“We know this is a passive act – people are not trying to hurt their animals, they think it is harmless, but they just don’t realize. We see these animals go from being OK, and panting, and able to cool themselves – from that to being in distress and close to collapsing very, very quickly.
“We know that people are not doing this because they want to cause harm to their pet, but we also know that it’s not OK. It’s important to get that message out.”
Priestley said while she has not had firsthand experience dealing with a pet that perished as a result of overheating in a car, it has happened in B.C. – most notably in May of 2014, when six dogs perished in the back of a pick-up left in a parking lot in Burnaby. Emma Paulson pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in the case and was sentenced to six months in jail.
More tips from SPCA
Heatstroke symptoms in dogs: exaggerated panting, bright red gums, rapid or erratic pulse, thick saliva, anxious or staring expression, weakness and muscle tremors, lack of coordination, convulsions or vomiting, collapse, seizures or coma.
Emergency treatment: Do not apply ice, which constricts blood flow and inhibits cooling. Take the animal to a vet as soon as possible for treatment. In the meantime, wet the dog with cool water around the head and on the pads of the feet. If it is 26C outside, inside a car – even with the windows cracked – the temperature can reach 37 degrees.
If you see an animal in a hot car on a warm day, please ask stores to page customers. If you believe the animal is in distress, please call the hotline at 1-855-622-7722.