Officials are bracing for increasingly warm weather to accelerate the number of calls about dogs at risk after being left sitting in hot

Officials are bracing for increasingly warm weather to accelerate the number of calls about dogs at risk after being left sitting in hot

Vancouver Island turns up the heat on people leaving pets in hot cars

Dog advocates hoping tougher bylaws, increased awareness will reduce the risk

Powerful new tools designed to protect dogs left in hot cars in Nanaimo have failed to save a single pet or punish a negligent pet owner in the nine months they’ve been in place.

And that is considered a good thing.

Nanaimo bylaw manager Rod Davidson said the entire point of the city’s new bylaw is to protect animals and raise awareness. In the 19 reports made to the city since the new regulations went into force Sept. 1, the dogs were either discovered in safe conditions, or had already departed before enforcement officers arrived.

“It’s more education than anything else. The last thing this city wants is a pet in distress,” he said. “The message we want to get out there is don’t leave your animal in the car by itself.”

Nanaimo’s regulations are part of a growing push by Island communities for giving bylaw and animal control officers increased power to issue fines to owners who leave dogs in distress and take action to rescue animals if necessary.

Under B.C. law, RCMP intervention, or a special constable of the SPCA is needed before action can be taken to rescue the dog. But Nanaimo’s new regulations empower bylaw enforcement officers to respond to complaints, determine if rescue action is necessary and slap offenders with a $500 fine, the heftiest on the Island.

SPCA animal protection and outreach officer Erika Paul said the city is not unique in its bid to improve regulations. The Capital Regional District, Duncan and a majority of municipalities in the Greater Victoria area have all made recent changes aimed at improving the way they can respond to an animal in distress.

However, the key link is getting provincial laws changed so bylaw and animal control officers don’t have to wait for RCMP or the special SPCA constables to arrive to take action. Police may have other priorities and, at the moment, there are just four special SPCA constables for the entire island.

“Where it gets tricky for us, is we are not legally allowed to enter a vehicle. RCMP can, but we can’t,” Comox Valley SPCA manager Emily Priestley said. “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.

“So municipalities where such bylaws are enacted, that’s really helpful, because it (would give) 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.”

According to Davidson, Nanaimo’s regulations are made more effective by a policy of quick response.

“We don’t want a good Samaritan to take a rock and smash a window,” he said. “We’ve made it a priority  so if they get a call, they respond right away.”

Nanaimo officials determine whether a dog is in distress by measuring the interior temperature with a heat gun. The danger point in an unventilated car is set at 23 degrees. Paul said other communities have written bylaws allowing officers more discretion in deciding when an animal may be in distress.

“Each dog is different; the breed, weight, age — all of these things have to be taken into account,” she said.

Cowichan SPCA manager Sandi Trent is hopeful local and provincial changes are coming soon that can help improve response in her community.

“We’re still bound by the law. Moving up-Island certainly is in the plans.”

With Island weather heating up again, officials are bracing for an uptick in calls. The SPCA recorded 34 across the Island in May, down slightly compared to the amount it received during last year’s extraordinary heat.

“Last year was a big one,” SPCA call centre manager Stephanie Sheffield said. “There has been a lot of news coverage and that helps.”

Trent said her office has recently been averaging two or three calls a day, but none have actually resulted in a dog in distress. That is increasingly common, as awareness of the issue grows.

People see a dog in a car with the windows up and are immediately concerned, even though frequently the dog has not been in the car long or the temperature is within an acceptable range. Paul remembers a report where the car was actually running, with the air conditioner left on keeping the dog comfortable inside.

“People are so passionate about it,” Paul said. “Often when we do come, we spend a lot of time defusing the crowd.”

Officials endorse a “better safe than sorry” approach with an eye on awareness and keeping tempers in check.

“Getting them to page the owner and getting them to return to the vehicle so the animal never gets to be in distress,” Sheffield said.

Davidson is good with the fact that since the new Nanaimo bylaw has been implemented, the city has yet to issue a fine.

“We’ve never had  to, and, once again, we’re not in the business of fines. It’s about education.”

Davidson said no one deliberately puts their pet in a dangerous situation. But circumstances sometimes lead people to make quick decisions they later regret. His advice is simple: if it’s hot, take your pet with you.

“Put your dog on a leash, walk him over and tie him up,” he said. “It’s the lack of air flow that’s the problem. A chihuahua is going to handle it better than a Newf or a Bernese mountain dog.”

He’s said the city is satisfied the new regulations seem to be working on a practical level.

“You know, I’d have to say we are. It allows us that we can respond in a timely fashion,” he said. “What we tried to do is we wanted to have something that protected the animals.”

Vancouver-area MLA Selina Robinson has introduced at private members’ bill in a bid to get the provincial law changed.

Paul hopes the attention placed on the issue works to improve both regulations and public awareness.

“It’s unfortunate the topic is coming up every year. You wonder when it will get to a point where it’s unnecessary.”

— with a file from Terry Farrell

Animals in distress

Vancouver Island animals in hot car reports recorded by the BC SPCA.

May 2016: 34 (200 province-wide)

May 2015: 45 (246 province-wide)

May 2014: 17 (183 province-wide)

May 2013: 15 (118 province-wide)

Source: SPCA

 

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

For Leela Harrop, the recent death of her brother Raju Tiwari pushed her to sign up for the vaccine. Photo supplied
Comox woman on fence about vaccine prompted by brother’s death

Leela Harrop says she did have issues with signing up online this past week

Most categories of crime held steady from year to year in Cumberland. File photo
Cumberland crime numbers hold steady year to year

A few categories had notable changes but many were similar to 2019

The colourful Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly has been reintroduced on Hornby Island, BC. Photo courtesy the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project.
Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project releases more caterpillars on Hornby Island

Chris Junck Special to Black Press The number of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies… Continue reading

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The Baynes Sound Connector leaves Denman Island en route to Buckley Bay. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Baynes Sound Connector undergoing upgrades

The MV Quinitsa is providing service between Buckley Bay and Denman Island

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read