One swallow may not make a summer but more than one snowflake in Britain makes a blizzard and two days of sunshine make a heatwave.
One of the problems with living in a maritime climate is that the weather is inherently unpredictable and can change very quickly. Extremes are rare and so we do not plan for them. Even so, hot days are not that uncommon and it beggars belief that dogs are still dying in hot cars, including dogs owned by professionals such as the police and security guards.
Even on a warm day, the temperature inside a car can be much higher than outside where there are mitigating factors such as wind and precipitation. Even parking in shade can be a problem: 22 degrees outside can equal 47 degrees inside. Dogs have a higher body temperature than humans and a less efficient cooling system. We have also bred dogs with severely inhibited mechanisms for natural cooling, especially brachycephalic dogs. So many owners cannot be bothered to look after their dog’s coat so shave most of it off, thereby removing heat deflecting ability and exposing skin to potential damage. These dogs are more at risk from heatstroke (and skin cancers) even outside.
If you do find a dog in a hot car and cannot find the owner immediately, establish the dog’s condition. The dog may be suffering from heatstroke if:
- It is panting heavily
- Drooling excessively
- Appears lethargic
- Appears drowsy
- Appears unco-ordinated
- Is vomiting.
If there are any signs that this is the case, find a telephone and call 999 immediately, asking for the police. Write down the registration number and any other things of note and take pictures if you have a camera available. If possible, establish how long the dog has been in the car, for instance by checking for a pay and display parking ticket. If you are at an event or near a shop or similar, ask the staff to make an announcement over the public address system. You may need to send someone else for help or get them to monitor the dog while you go.
If the situation appears critical for the dog and the police have not arrived or will not attend, you may have to decide whether to break into the car. This could be classed as criminal damage and may land you in court. If you decide to go ahead, try to do so in presence of witnesses and tell the police what you intend to do and why. Obtain contact details for the witnesses.
The Criminal Damage Act 1971 Section 5(2)(a) states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances.
If the owner returns but you still feel that the situation was dangerous for the dog, you may still report the incident to the police.
Once the dog has been released, emergency first aid may be necessary before the dog is moved. The highest proprity with heatstroke is to lower body the temperature gradually. Take the dog into the shade or to a cool area. If possible soak towels and lie the dog on one with a fan directly on the dog whilst using the other to douse the dog. Use cool rather than cold water to prevent shock. Continue until the dog’s breathing normalises but stop before the dog begins to shiver.
The dog may drink small amounts of cool water.
Once the dog is cool, veterinary help should be sought urgently.