While out running errands, you've probably seen a dog or cat locked in a car waiting for its owner to return. If it was a warm, sunny day, maybe you were concerned. If the temperature was above 90, you should have been alarmed.
Though pet owners usually know what's good and bad for their animals, some insist on bringing them along for the ride even at times they'd be better off at home. The sauna-like conditions of a closed car in a hot parking lot are no place for any pet, even for a short time.
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Studies vary on how quickly a temperature can rise in closed car, but they all conclude that it will shoot up within minutes, as much as 20 or 30 degrees above the outside temperature. An animal trapped in such an environment can suffer heat exhaustion, brain damage or death.
Last week, a South Elgin man was charged with endangering an animal after his terrier was found alone in the man's car outside the courthouse in St. Charles. The high that day was 98 degrees, and he told police he was away six hours but had checked on the dog periodically.
Passers-by saw the terrier lying in the front seat, foaming at the mouth. The windows were cracked a couple of inches, so they entered to car, tried to cool down the dog and called police.
The owner said that he didn't think "it was all that hot today," the report said. This case may be extreme, but even moderate summer temperatures and shorter time periods can pose a danger. Animal cruelty comes in forms we don't always think about.
Our society loves our pets. They are true companions in which we often see human qualities. We give them Christmas presents, they join us on vacations, we take them to doggy spas.
But they are not human, and there are things they cannot take care of themselves. One is body temperature. While people sweat to regulate heat, animals' fur traps it in. Dogs do not sweat to cool themselves, though panting releases some internal heat.
As a society we are outraged when we hear about animals being abused (recent stories of horses in McHenry County and pets at a shelter in Kildeer come to mind). Also last week, a dog was found dead in an oven of a burglarized home in Arlington Heights. The way we treat animals may indeed reflect how we treat each other.
Owners should think twice before bringing any pet on a car ride in the heat. A quick trip into a store can turn into a 20-minute affair if a long checkout line causes a delay.
As in the St. Charles case, passers-by can help. Assess whether a pet really is in trouble. Did the owner leave the air conditioning on? Does the animal seem lethargic or confused? We're not suggesting anyone break into a car, but a call to police or animal control could save a pet's life. Or ask a store manager to locate the owner over the loudspeaker. It's important to avoid any confrontations, but those who leave an animal behind should be aware that there may be an officer waiting when they come back.