Friday, September 30, 2016

Dogs in Hot Cars (Again)

Some things shouldn't have to be said
Some of the most frustrating Animal Control calls for me are dogs locked hot cars. We live in Florida where it can be brutally hot from Easter to Halloween. I don’t understand why anyone would subject a dog to these Hell-like conditions. Apparently dogs in hot cars bother other people too, because I'm always getting questions about it. People want to know what do I do and what can they do as well.

Here's my procedure:

When I arrive on scene the first thing I do is run the tag. Dispatch can usually give me the name attached to the vehicle. I'll grab a passerby or two and have them run into nearby shops and restaurants calling for the owner.

I then start collecting evidence. I keep an infrared thermometer in my truck. I take three different readings, average them and then ask dispatch to record the temperature in CAD (the Computer Aided Dispatch system). I describe everything I see:
  • How many dogs?
  • What size? Color? Possible breed?
  • Is there water in the vehicle?
  • Does the dog appear distressed or listless?
  • Is it panting, drooling or foaming at the mouth?
  • Are the windows down and how far?
All this information is recorded by the dispatcher.

Infrared thermometers read temps
through closed windows
I take pictures of the vehicle from all four sides, making sure to include a license plate number and position of the windows. I want the pictures to reflect how much shade there is (or is not) on the vehicle. I take a picture of the dog.

If the owner hasn't arrived within 5 minutes, I take the temperature again and have it recorded. I note any changes in the appearance or behavior of the dog. I test door handles to see if they're unlocked. I call an officer and/or supervisor for assistance. (If I have to break into someone's vehicle and pull out a dog, I want backup.)

99% of the time we find the owner within 15 minutes. He gets a lecture and a big fat cruelty ticket.

Good to know information
If we can't find an owner after canvassing the neighborhood and/or the dog is in medical distress and/or the internal temperature is at a dangerous level then we will break into the vehicle and impound the dog. This is a process and takes time. Bystanders get frustrated with the wait. What they don't understand is that there are legal ramifications to breaking into a car.
Civics Lesson: The 4th Amendment prohibits Illegal Search and Seizure from the Government. As a government employee, I need to prove that there are exigent circumstances (i.e. dog will die if I don't act now) which allow me to violate a person's Constitutional rights. P.S. The City will get sued anyway.
Should a dog be removed from a car due to heat, it is immediately taken to a veterinarian for examination. The dog's body temperature is taken and everything possible is done (at the City's expense) to cool the dog down quickly and safely. Everything is documented for evidence.

After the ticket is written/the dog is impounded, I gather various documents that will be helpful should we go to court. I make sure to have any vet records. I get a copy of the CAD Report from the dispatcher showing all the transactions during the incident. I also go to Weather Underground and print out the weather report for that day and time. (I like this site because it shows the current temperature as well as the humidity, heat index and "feels like" temperature.) I print my pictures, copy the citation and write out a narrative while the incident is still fresh in my mind. I put everything in a folder and wait for the subpoena.

What you can do:

Good news for those of you living in Florida. As of March 14, 2016, private citizens can legally break into hot cars to remove dogs (and people) without being sued. However, HB 131 states that there are things you need to do first.
  • Make sure the vehicle is locked
  • Call 911 or law enforcement before entering the vehicle
  • Use no more force than necessary
  • Remain with the person or animal until first-responders arrive
Bad news: Even though you're allowed to break into people's cars, not everybody appreciates your efforts. Several months ago a mother and son saw a dog locked in a truck in Clay County. It was 93 degrees outside. The couple opened the truck door and pulled out the dog. The dog/truck owners promptly returned and beat the snot out of the Good Samaritans (full story here).

More importantly, you can educate people. Ignorance is a big part of the problem. Most people I deal with have no idea how hot the inside of the car gets until I show them the infrared thermometer reading. Positive, proactive things you can do to help include:
  • Educate yourself (more info on the subject here)
  • Buy your own infrared thermometer (less than $20 on Amazon)
  • Talk to your friends and neighbors
  • Include hot car dangers in your humane education lessons for children
  • Order and distribute materials from places like My Dog is Cool (or make your own)
  • Encourage businesses to post warning signs in store windows and parking lots
  • Submit articles to local newspapers and newsletters
  • Ask your vet to display hot car information in the waiting room
  • Share videos like the one below on social media

I hope you feel empowered and better informed. I know it's the end of September and many of you are thinking "Why is she sharing this now?" Well, it may be sweater weather for my northern friends, but we've got another month or two of HOT here in Florida. We're looking at 90 degrees all weekend. I know, ugh. TTFN, -- K

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