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Heatwaves can be fatal for pets

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KPCW
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Keep windows open and shut off the car engine when leaving dogs in the parking lot in summer months, says Summit County's animal control director.

News this week that a German Shepherd in Salt Lake City died from heatstroke after being left in a car for more than an hour broke hearts and infuriated animal lovers. Now, animal control officials are begging pet owners to be mindful of the heatwave.

Salt Lake County Animal Services reported that the German Shepherd’s owner was cited for animal cruelty.

Animal control officials emphasize that this sort of pet neglect is an avoidable tragedy, though it occurs every summer. And once again this year, they're sounding the alarm as much of Utah currently endures a summer heatwave.

Summit County Animal Control Director Stacy Gunn said a basic rule of thumb is that if humans are hot, pets are hot. But pets can’t cool off by sweating like humans do, which is part of why they’re more vulnerable. Panting is how they sweat but it’s not as effective.

Pets can be left in cars for very short stretches of time, Gunn said, as long as conditions are appropriate.

"If you're just gonna run in really quick then you know, that's it's good, but I would prefer that you turn the engine off and then you make sure that the windows are down - not down enough so the animal can jump out of the vehicle but down enough so that you know there can be some proper air coming in," she said.

Keeping pets safe involves common sense. Extra water, shade, air conditioning and no paws on hot asphalt.

She said an easy test of whether ground is too hot for paws is to put your hand down on the ground. If you can’t leave it there comfortably, dogs shouldn’t be on it.

In Summit County, leaving cars idling for more than one minute is against the law. So that isn’t an option either. Windows down enough, parking under shade and most importantly limiting the time pet owners are away from a pet in a car are the only options.

Gunn suggested people set alarms on their phones if they’re leaving pets in cars briefly, to remind themselves not to get distracted.

If citizens see pets inside cars who are excessively panting, drooling or listless and non-responsive, they're advised to call police, sheriff, and animal control. Take photos of the pet, the car and license plate and give them to animal control as well.

You show up on scene and you look at it and then you make that decision on whether that's a good time for them to be in there at that point or whether it's time to get them out if we can see into the vehicle enough to to see if the dog is stressed. We'll always leave also a card on the windshield. And then we'll keep coming back, you know, within a couple of minutes to keep checking on the dog to make sure that it's still doing okay, and then once we meet with the owner, it's then either a citation or a strict verbal warning

Gunn said don't break a car window as that can lead to liability for damages.

Signs of pet heatstroke include excessive panting and salivation, anxiousness, weakness, and convulsions or vomiting.

Michelle, who joined KPCW in 2021, arrived in Utah in 2018 by way of Massachusetts, where the skiing was icy and the mosquitoes formidable. A former daily newspaper reporter and editor (at the Visalia Times-Delta in CA) and columnist (at The Cohasset Mariner in MA), Michelle has been a writer and editor for decades. She holds a journalism degree from CSU Fresno and has worked as a journalist, freelance writer and web content creator, reporting extensively on education and youth along with general assignment and breaking news.