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Pets Large & Small

Animals & hot cars

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(7/2014) Well, the heat has arrived and it's telling me that I must be getting older. Ugh. When I was a kid, I swear I didn't even notice the humidity. Now it's like I'm breathing through water.

Every year when the temperatures creep ever higher, I hope I won't have to do my annual column about animals in cars, but alas, we received a call just this week from someone who found a dog inside a parked car.

The longer I work at the shelter, the more I figure people are tired of hearing the advice about spaying and neutering or the rules about animals in hot cars, but as long as I continue to get calls about people not taking the advice, I'm going to keep dispensing it.

Folks, I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is to leave a pet in a parked car, especially when temperatures get warm.

Just a week ago, a dog died in Arizona after being left in a hot car for an hour while his owner went shopping. I wish I was joking about this. Authorities had to remove the dog from the vehicle, but he could not be saved.

Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be very hot outside for conditions inside a vehicle to turn dangerous. A few years ago when a woman left her dog alone in the car while she ran some errands, authorities had to break into the car to relieve the dog, who was in obvious distress. The temperature inside was 100 degrees. The high that day was only 76 degrees.

I think it's a little shocking how hot it can get inside a car even on a day that feels relatively cool to us.

On a 90 degree day, the interior of a car can reach almost 110 degrees in just ten minutes -- even with the windows cracked. This is an experiment you can actually do on your own with a thermometer and a hot car. The results will more than likely surprise you.

Simply place the thermometer inside the car and monitor how quickly the temperature rises. Now imagine wearing a fur coat on top of all that heat.

Our pets don't react to heat the same way we do. They don't sweat; they pant. Panting sends cool air over their tongues and helps reduce their internal temperature. Because they pant, their heart rate also increases. When they can't get relief from extreme heat, that constant need to pant is what can send them into heat stroke and eventual cardiac arrest.

Stretching out on cool floors in one way they can find respite from high temperatures. Anyplace their skin can connect to something cold will help cut down on the chance of heat stroke.

The interior of a parked car doesn't have a cool surface. Heck, my steering wheel is hard to handle when it's really hot outside.

Leaving your dog or cat in a parked car is very nearly like putting them into an oven and setting the temperature between 120 and 150 degrees. We, as humans, would leave a place that hot and search for shade or a breeze or some water -- an animal in a car doesn’t have that ability or luxury.

It's a bad combination and succumbing to the heat is a horrible way to die -- and believe me, animals have died this way. Even if an animal is freed before death, brain damage can occur in a remarkably short amount of time.

I understand that gas prices are making travel a little rough and that when people take trips, they want to do everything at once so they don't have to waste gas. I do get that, but truly, if your pup is with you, please make it a one-stop journey.

Yes, I know that folks leave the air conditioner on when the car is parked for the dogs, but again, dogs don't sweat, therefore the cool breeze won't affect them exactly the same way it does us.

Also, have you ever done this? Parked the car and sat with the air conditioner running? It's surprising how quickly that air heats up. It doesn't stay as cold as it is when the car is actually in motion.

The one issue about this problem that truly sticks in my craw is that all of this -- the deaths of dogs, the discomfort they suffer -- is preventable. Every year, I hope I won't have to talk about this situation, but alas, it never happens.

There's a simple solution to a dog not having to endure a hot car -- do not leave him there in the first place.

In Pennsylvania, this falls under the Animal Cruelty section of the Crimes Code. If your dog suffers injuries from being left in a hot car, you could be looking at some serious fines.

Even one animal losing his life this way is one too many and it doesn't have to happen.

If the heat is too much for my old body, I know it's far too much for a dog or a cat's. Please, no matter how much your pet enjoys a good car ride, do what's best for him and make sure the trips you have to take are as comfortable and as short as they can be.

And never, ever, leave your animal alone in a hot, parked car.


Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

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