The alarming sight of a dog left alone in a car in the Walmart in Trail parking lot hopefully caught some shopper’s attention Wednesday afternoon.
Fortunately, it was a stuffed toy dog and the car was an RCMP cruiser donated for a demonstration by the Trail SPCA on how fast a car can heat up if someone leaves their dog in their car while shopping.
“People don’t realize how fast the temperature rises in a car, even if they leave the window cracked,” said Danielle Jackman, branch manager of the Trail SPCA. “If you get stuck in a line up inside a store your dog could be outside dying.”
Wednesday’s demonstration involved leaving the stuffed animal in the car, with a partially opened window, and a remote thermometer and recording the temperature every five minutes to track the rising temperature.
Within 30 minutes of beginning the test, under partially overcast skies, the temperature in the RCMP cruiser had risen by 17 degrees Celsius, to 47 C.
According to the SPCA, temperatures within parked vehicles, even if they are in a shaded area or with partially opened windows, can quickly rise high enough to kill a pet. A dog can be overwhelmed by heat in as little as 10 minutes.
Many people aren’t aware that leaving their dogs in a dangerous situation, such as a hot vehicle, can lead to charges under the criminal code.
“If charges are laid in a situation like this it could result in up to a $10,000 fine, 18 months in prison, or both,” said Gordon Sims, RCMP/City of Trail Crime Prevention officer. “If it was determined to be an indictable offence, the term could go as high as five years in prison. Sentences at that level are quite rare, more often you would see more of a restorative justice approach, community service or volunteer time, but it could lead to charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and a possible ban on owning animals.”
The SPCA warns that pets left in hot vehicles can become subject to hyperthermia or heat stroke and may begin showing symptoms such as exaggerated panting, lack of coordination, an anxious or staring expression, tremors, and eventual collapse.
It is recommended that if your pet shows these signs to immediately remove the animal to shade and begin cooling them with vigorous fanning and wetting them down with cool, not cold, water.
Once the pet is out of immediate danger take them for veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
“We probably get, on average, a call per day throughout the summer,” said Jackman. “Many times the car is gone by the time we get there but we have waited for up to half an hour before the pet owner returns.”
Jackman hopes that the demonstration, which was sponsored by Walmart, Mountain FM, and the West Kootenay Animal Hospital, raises public awareness about the hazards of leaving a dog in a vehicle on a hot day.
“Not only are people subject to charges, they could lose their animals and their vehicle could be damaged if we have to remove the pet,” said Jackman. “The best thing to do is leave them at home.”