Column: Tragic reminder of the impact of heat on dogs

The tragedy last week of six dogs dying in the back of a pick-up truck is a harsh reminder of the care dogs need as temperatures warm up.

The terrible tragedy last week of six dogs dying in the back of a dog-walker’s pick-up truck from heatstroke in Langley is a harsh reminder of the special care dogs need as temperatures warm up.

The story broke when the dog-walker claimed that six dogs in her care had been stolen. But the sordid truth was that the dogs had been left in the back of her canopy-covered truck in hot weather where they died from heat exhaustion.

What exactly happened is still under investigation and charges are pending but the heartbreaking story is the worst of all head’s up scenarios for what not to do as summer approaches.

“When the days get warmer we get hundreds of emergency calls to rescue dogs whose lives are endangered because they are left in hot cars by their guardians,” said Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations for the BC SPCA. “Many well-meaning guardians leave their dogs unattended in parked cars while they run errands. Tragically, this can lead to serious heatstroke and even death for their pets.”

According to the SPCA, the temperature in a parked car, even in the shade with windows partly open, can rapidly reach a dangerous level that can harm or kill a pet. The air is still with no natural circulation and temperatures can climb to well over 38 degrees Celsius.

Dogs have no sweat glands. They cool themselves by panting and by releasing heat through their paws. On summer days the hot, still air in the car coupled with the warm upholstery make it impossible for pets to cool themselves. Dogs can tolerate high temperatures for only a very short time – usually just 10 minutes – before suffering irreparable brain damage or death.

Heatstroke symptoms include exaggerated panting or suddenly stopping panting, rapid or erratic pulse, salivation, anxiety, weakness or muscle tremours, lack of co-ordination, convulsions, vomiting, or collapse.

The animal needs to be removed immediately to a cool, shady place, wetted down with cool water, fanned vigorously which will help cool the blood and lower the dog’s core temperature, and offered small amounts of water (drinking too much too quickly could induce vomiting which will cause dehydration). If water isn’t available, offer the dog some ice cream to lick. Then get the dog to a vet as quickly as possible for further checks.

If you see a distressed dog locked in a car in a parking lot, call the police, SPCA, or alert the store manager to get help. Perhaps a PA system broadcasting the problem and the make, model and license plate number of the vehicle in the store can alert the owner they are needed immediately to remove the dog. Authorities will take more extreme measures to quickly remove the dog if the owner can’t be found.

I often take my two border collies with me on short errands. I keep their travelling bag in the vehicle all the time which contains their leashes, a large bottle of water (refreshed frequently), two drinking bowls, poop-scoop bags and a few treats. But if the temperature is going to climb and I’ve got lengthy stops to make, the dogs stay home. At least I know there will be some furiously wagging tails when I get back.

“If you’re used to letting your dog accompany you on errands, you might feel guilty leaving him behind on hot summer days,” said Chortyk. “But your dog will be much happier – and safer – at home, with shade and plenty of fresh cool water.”

But somewhere in Langley there are six heartbroken families missing their beloved pets. And it must hurt all the more knowing that their deaths were entirely preventable.