It was a hot enough day outside, never mind inside the sticky confines of a stuffy vehicle. The animal welfare men saw the dog right where the kind-hearted caller had reported he would be. The canine was cowering on the floor behind the front seat, seeking shade under a plastic bag. With no way of knowing how much the creature was suffering, the men decided they needed to act – and fast.
Canada isn’t exactly famous for its hot weather, but nevertheless, July 21, 2017, was a particularly beautiful day for Ontario. The sky was blue, the sun was high, and the city of St. Catharines was sweltering. A nice day for its human population, with people going about their business and leisure in the warm sunshine. But a less-than-nice day for dogs, with their sometimes ineffective way of regulating body heat. And one dog in particular was suffering greatly because of the temperature. It was a sticky situation for the animal already, and one that could have quickly turn lethal.
Not long after the heat of midday, a pedestrian on Fourth Avenue in downtown St. Catharines was passing a shopping center when they witnessed a disturbing sight. While walking through a parking lot adjacent to the center, the passer-by saw movement under a plastic bag in the back of a parked truck. On closer inspection, it was revealed to be a French bulldog under there.
The poor small-breed pooch had apparently been left inside the vehicle which had been parked in the open sunshine with no shade. To be fair to whoever had left the animal in the back of the truck, they had the windows open just a crack to let some air inside. But, judging by the sorry appearance of the dog, this precaution was just not enough. As a result, the passerby played good Samaritan, took out their smartphone and made a good call.
The concerned citizen reported the issue to the Lincoln County Humane Society – or LCHS. They weren’t to know that the local animal welfare charity actually had its headquarters on Fourth Avenue. Consequently, two officers were able to respond to the dog-in-distress call quickly. So, perhaps luckily, it was just a matter of minutes before no less a person than the LCHS executive director, Kevin Strooband, and an inspector, Todd Menard, were on the scene.
Strooband filmed what happened next on his smartphone, but one thing was obvious from the opening shot. Having ascertained there was indeed a small dog locked inside the truck, the LCHS men knew they had to act swiftly and safely. As previously stated, it was a hot day – records show the temperature at 77°F, but when the level of humidity was factored in, people reported that it felt more like 95°F. However, the LCHS duo knew the interior of the truck was even hotter.
Inspector Menard’s subsequent use of his temperature-measuring gun revealed that the dog was stuck in oppressive conditions. Intensified by the magnifying qualities of the vehicle’s windows and insulation of the plastic interior, the air inside was stifling. Menard measured a reading of 106°F rising to 126°F inside the truck. Furthermore, the dog’s owner was nowhere to be seen, leaving the LCHS men with few options.
There was no way to gain access to the vehicle in a conventional manner, and the panting pooch was hardly in a position to let himself out. The confused canine was desperately trying to avoid the sun’s glare under a plastic shopping bag. Menard and Strooband felt there was only one course of action. They decided they needed to give the dog assistance immediately, and resigned themselves to breaking into the truck.
Luckily, the animal welfare organization had equipped its inspector with the ideal tool for the task. Menard employed a car window breaker, which he kept on a keychain for just such an emergency. As the name suggests, the small device is loaded with a spring that packs enough punch to shatter reinforced glass. Menard positioned it on the corner of the truck’s front-passenger window, on the other side of the vehicle from where the dog sat behind the driver’s seat.
The glass broke immediately with a sizable bang, allowing Menard to reach in and release the door lock. The poor dog looked terrified, but he wasn’t to know the guys from the LCHS were acting in his best interests. Subsequently, they took the French bulldog straight to a veterinarian. The dog was deemed mostly healthy, but it was thought that the animal had been rescued just in time.
The dog’s temperature was found to be higher than usual, but nevertheless the overheated hound didn’t seem overly traumatized. Furthermore, once the veterinarian had lowered the animal’s temperature, the rescued doggo was thought to have made a complete recovery. LCHS inspectors managed to track down the dog’s human, who was more than happy to co-operate with their enquiries. In fact, he made a shocking statement.
According to Strooband, the man seriously thought that his barely open windows would be enough to keep his dog cool. Speaking to local news website Niagara this Week, Strooband said, “It’s a typical excuse, along with ‘I wasn’t gone that long,’ [and] “It’s not that hot out,’ and ‘I was parked in the shade.’ None of those are good enough.”However, because the canine in question was not permanently harmed, its owner did not get charged under animal cruelty regulations.
On the other hand, he didn’t get away without any punishment and had to pay the price for his mistake. To be more precise, the dog owner was fined with having inadequate ventilation in his vehicle. The sum payable was roughly $250, in addition to vet expenses and LCHS charges. There was also the price of replacing his passenger-side window. So, in total, not the cheapest lesson the man had ever paid for, but not bad considering it could have cost his pet its life.
Despite being given plenty of warnings, irresponsible humans are still leaving their pets in vehicles during hot weather. It is a worrying issue that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – or SPCA – is struggling to fight. But it’s not like it’s a new problem, Kevin Strooband, then working as an SPCA inspector, spoke about it to the CTV network’s News Toronto back in July, 2013.
“We’re still getting a call a day – I’m perplexed,” he said. And more recent anecdotal evidence points to the fact that incidences of dogs left in hot vehicles are also still happening in the U.S. Despite 50 states of the union having specific laws against such neglect, it is an all-too-common problem. But because of a lack of adequate recording – not to mention the fact that dogs can’t talk – the exact extent of the problem is unclear.
The campaigning movement My Dog Is Cool is out there fighting to raise awareness of the issue and prevent dogs dying in hot cars. The organization guesstimates that anywhere between 15,000 to 27,000 dogs are left in hot vehicles every single day in America. My Dog Is Cool argues that even a minute is too long for a mutt in a high-temperature car. But what should you do if you see a dog in such a situation?
In some states – Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Florida, for example – canines caught up in these circumstances are protected under the good Samaritan law. This legislation allows a member of the public to damage property if they consider a life to be in danger, and that includes doggos. But breaking into a car could cause distress to the animal inside. My Dog Is Cool says this action should only be undertaken as “a last resort.”
The campaign group advises that anyone concerned for a dog’s welfare should assess the situation fully and not just rush in. Often, the best thing to do is report it to the authorities. But if the situation seems life-threatening, you still need to proceed with caution. On the My Dog Is Cool website, it says, “Make sure you’ve gathered as much evidence of the situation and dog’s condition as you can, including involving near-by witnesses… Even if you save the animal, you might still be charged with a crime and face repercussions in the majority of states.”
Jeff Pierce acts as legislative counsel to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization which seeks to uphold all manner of creatures’ rights under the law. Pierce spoke to animal interest website The Dodo about the issue in July, 2016. He said, “Keep in mind the possibility that someone might not only be sued by the dog’s owner, but [you] might [also] be prosecuted by law enforcement for, say, vandalism or property damage.”
But perhaps it is in both man and beast’s best interests that the good Samaritan law is taken up by other states. In September, 2016, Cory Smith, director of companion animal public policy at The Humane Society of the United States, spoke to the Today show. He maintained that the good Samaritan law benefits everyone. He said, “When good Samaritans save the lives of dogs in hot cars they are also preventing hardship for the dogs’ owners. [This is] one less tragedy all around.”