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It Was Just a Few Minutes

In summary, this was the officer's wisdom: Our four-legged friends only perspire around their paws, which is not enough to cool the body. To rid themselves of excess heat, animals pant. Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.

“It was just a few minutes. I’m just buying a ticket.” The owner of the two dogs stranded in the beating hot sunlight on a 85-degree summer day outside the Arts store in Herndon, Virginia, retorted. The shop manager defended her and called me a fanatic.

A dog can fry and die in 15 minutes of heat, about the time it takes a human to wait in line in Starbucks for an iced latte. Why would anyone leave pets in a parked car in the heat?

I searched my soul for something rational. I found nothing. The source, I conclude, is our human ignorance about animals. Humans want to anthropomorphize their pets. Humans think an animal has the same tolerances as we do, inferring we are superior to most two-legged creatures. Humans think we can treat nonhuman beings as human. But news for us all: A dog is not a human. A dog does not sweat. A dog does not have the same sense of time, and does possess an overabundant sense of loyalty. A dog is a captive in a hot car and it may as well be the gas chamber for the deadliness of the confinement.

Parked cars are deathtraps for dogs: On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 to 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes.

The Wrong Place; Right Time When I pulled up to the gentle building on the fringe of Old Town Herndon called “ArtSpace”, I was just wandering on a hot Saturday afternoon and thought an art break would feed my soul. As soon as I saw the two dogs stranded in the black-topped convertible, one of three cars parked, I just about lost my cool. I rushed into the store, asking whose dogs were left in the car outside. A woman, chatting casually with the associate at the desk, glanced at me. “Are those your dogs in the car?” I asked. Her hostile look told me “yes”. “Please go immediately and turn on your air conditioning before your dogs get heat stroke.” She shrugged, “I’ve only been here a few minutes.” Then turned and ignored me. “Ma’am, in a few minutes your dogs will be dead of heat. If you don’t go turn on your air conditioning now, I will call the police.” She stormed out. The store manager defended her, and called me a fanatic. “It was only a few minutes,” he said. On my way back to the car, I was not in the mood for an art exhibit. The owner of the car with her dogs exited the parking lot, sped, by and swore at me.

Right Place; Good People

On another occasion, I witnessed the Fairfax County Animal Control patrol heroically saving a dog abandoned in a parked car in a Target parking lot on an 80-degree day. A dog friendly shopper had called them when she spotted a sweet cocker spaniel stranded in the SUV. Her page in the store was not successful. She said the dog had been there for almost an hour. I asked if they ran the plates. When they did that, they had the owners’ name and the next storewide page, calling her by name, was successful She came up to the car with her daughter.

The first thing Officer O’Connor said to her was to go immediately and turn on the air conditioning. Her daughter sat in the SUV, while he informed her about the effects of heat on a dog. Basically, a dog’s brain will fry. In the end, he did not issue a ticket. He gave her a strong warning. The combination of attentiveness of a passer by, and effectiveness of the police training, brought a resolution before something worse had happened. The owner said she was shopping and thought it was all right since the car was in the shade. She said she is a member of the SPCA.


WHAT TO DO: Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect your pet has heatstroke, you must act quickly and calmly. Have someone call a veterinarian immediately. In the meantime, lower the animal's body temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body. Often the pet will respond after only a few minutes of cooling, only to falter again with his temperature soaring back up or falling to well below what is normal. With this in mind, remember that it is imperative to get the animal to a veterinarian immediately. Once your pet is in the veterinarian's care, treatment may include further cooling techniques, intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to prevent or reverse brain damage.

Our Patron Saint Christopher

St. Christopher was depicted in early art as having the head of a dog. He was a large man, originating from the land of Canaan. Apparently, in his lifetime or soon after, Canaan was associated with canines, and so, St. Christopher has the head of a dog in Byzantine art. His message to us in these times is still relevant: that he bears witness to the things that were, and that the things that happen now, are equally important, and in many ways, the same. While St. Christopher is named as such for being the “Christ Carrier”, based on the history that a child he carried on his back across a river was the Christ, I believe he is a standard for our responsibility to carry others’ burdens.

So, call me a fanatic. A name will hurt for a short while. But a dead dog is forever.

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