Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Arden Moore
After parking your car in a shopping center lot on a typical hot, humid August day here in Palm Beach County, let’s say you notice a dog looking weakly back at you from inside a locked, closed car.
You quickly assess your options. You may call out for the owner of the vehicle, rush into the store and have the person paged or you can quickly phone the local police department or dial 911. Each minute that passes, however, moves that trapped dog closer to heat stroke and even death.
You may hesitate about the legal ramifications before you smash the vehicle’s window to unlock the door, retrieve the dog and deliver pet first aid.
Fortunately, you now have the law on your side. Florida legislators enacted a law this spring that allows you to break into locked vehicles to rescue animals or people who are in imminent danger of suffering harm. It is designed to protect good Samaritans and to save the lives of the most vulnerable — children and pets.
“If this new law can save just one animal, just one child, it is all worth it,” declares Bob Burnell, a just-retired police officer who lives in Lake Worth. He operates a professional dog training company called Sit Means Sit and is a certified master first aid/CPR instructor with Pet Tech.
Florida joins only Tennessee and Wisconsin with such wide-sweeping good-Samaritan laws. In 17 other states, only police or humane shelter officials can legally break into a vehicle to rescue a trapped pet on a hot day.
To follow the conditions of this new law, you must:
• Make sure that the vehicle is locked.
• Call 911 or the local police first.
• Do only what is necessary to reach the trapped pet or child by breaking a window and not damaging the entire vehicle.
• Stay with the pet or the child until first responders arrive on the scene.
Far too many times, Burnell has had to respond to calls of pets locked inside cars on hot days. Some have survived; some have not.
“I don’t buy that excuse that the person left their pet inside a hot car for ‘just a minute’ to go inside a store,” says Burnell. “They may run into a friend and the five minutes becomes 15 minutes, or they run into a big line at checkout. Even if a person leaves windows partially open and parks the car in the shade, there is still a greenhouse effect. It is almost like the dog is inside a prison of heat with no way out.”
He recalls responding to a call about a senior-aged golden retriever left inside a locked car at a local shopping center. Fortunately, he was able to get the dog out in time, and place cool water on him to drop his high body temperature. The dog was treated for dehydration and heat stroke at a veterinary clinic.
“His owner said he would only be in the store for a few minutes but that his air conditioning wasn’t working,” recalls Burnell. “I said then why bring the dog? He was cited for a misdemeanor, but this was a preventable accident.”
Even on a day when it is 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car with all the windows closed can hit 90 degrees in just 10 minutes. On an 85-degree day, it can shoot up to 102 degrees or higher during that same short time span, according to officials at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a major legal advocacy group based in Cotati, Calif.
Keep in mind that dogs and cats do not perspire like we do. They lack the skin pores. They attempt to combat heat by panting and sweating through their paw pads. Pets affected by heat will display some or all of these signs:
• Excessive salivation
• Rapid panting and problems breathing
• Bright red gums and dark red tongue
• Reddened, warm inside the ears
• Rapid heart rate
• Staggering or acting confused
• Convulsions or seizures
• Collapse into unconsciousness
Burnell and his wife, Eileen Anderson-Burnell, who is also a master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor, teach their students how to prevent this from happening and what to do if they encounter an overheated pet.
“We teach our students to use cool water — never ice cold water — to cool down the pet’s body temperature,” says Burnell. “Avoid ice cubes or ice cold water because they can shrink the capillaries, impede blood flow and even cause shock. Place the dog’s paws in cool water and place a wet T-shirt or towel on the dog’s belly to allow the temperature to drop gradually. Monitor his breathing and be ready to administer CPR or rescue breathing if necessary.”
The Burnells are all about educating people fortunate to share their lives with pets.
“Dogs and cats cannot speak for themselves,” he says. “We are their advocates. We are there to keep them safe.”
To enroll in an upcoming pet first aid class taught by the Burnells, please visit www.pettech.net and type in your city and state on the instructor directory located on the home page. Or contact them at www.palmbeach.sitmeanssit.com.
Made (safe) in the shade
To share the message of keeping pets safe, consider ordering vehicle sunshades created by the Animal Legal Defense Fund that sport the message, “Warning: Don’t leave dogs in hot cars.”
These shades cost $20, with proceeds benefiting the ALDF. Learn more at www.aldf.org/hotcars.
Arden Moore, founder of www.FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the popular Oh Behave! show on www.PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.