As I (Henri Bianucci)stepped out through the front door of my home, I was swept up in a canine swirl. My dogs, all eight of them, had been let out a half hour before, but they acted as if they had not seen me in a week.
I was running late, as usual, so I doled out affection quickly and sparingly, careful to include each one equally.
For the enthusiasm they had displayed for me, they must have felt a bit cheated for what was returned. My wife noticed it as well, and suggested, as if to compensate for an injustice, “Why don’t you bring the puppies to work today? They get so bored.”
Knowing this would cost me precious minutes, I declined, but instantly gave way to guilt and said, “Hop in.” Which they, the two 1-year-old, recently adopted dogs, did immediately. They instantly curled up, contentedly, quietly, in the back seat.
I had a very busy day ahead, and was preoccupied by a case that was having complications. So absorbed was I in thought, that the details of my morning commute, barely formed a vague memory. One thing had made an impression. It was hot and humid. Summer was definitely close.
I was in the middle of appointments when my cell phone buzzed. I completed my exam and glanced at the phone. It was about 11:30 a.m. The text was from my wife. “Did you remember that you had the puppies?”
A wave of dread swept through me before my brain had a chance to process an answer.
It’s estimated that hundreds of dogs perish in cars in the U.S. each year.
The suns rays quickly heat the surfaces of the dashboard and seats, which, in turn, efficiently radiate heat. A car’s interior can reach 120 degrees on an 80 degree day in 30 minutes.
On a 90 degree day, it can hit 160 degrees in 10 minutes. These temperatures are quickly lethal to dogs left in a closed vehicle. Opening the windows may do little to minimize this.
Sometimes dogs jump, unseen, into the car while the door is left open to unload groceries or are let in by children unbeknownst to the parent.
The results of being left in a hot car can be tragic. Even if they survive the initial hyperthermia (high body temperature), they will often incur irreparable brain or organ damage, which could claim them slowly over the ensuing days.
A second wave, of relief, swept through when my brain provided the answer. Yes, I brought them straight to my office first thing upon arrival. They were safe.
This story is remarkable, not for what actually happened, but for how easily it could have taken a very dark turn. Every time we bring our dogs with us in warm weather, it is a potential tragedy.
It is simply too easy to “space out” that your dog is with you, or underestimate the time you will be away from the car.
Some will claim that they keep the car, and air conditioning, running when they leave their dogs in the car. We treated a dog who had been left that way, and the car had suddenly died. Not long after that, the poor dog did too.
At our emergency clinics, we treat dogs who have been left in cars every summer. When one reads the stories, which inevitably make it into the news, one thinks, “What an idiot!”
I can assure you that these people are a composite of our society. All ages, professions, and income brackets are represented in this gallery of unfortunates. It can happen to anyone. We recently saw a cat, who was deceased upon arrival, that had snuck into the owner’s car as the owner unloaded groceries. Never leave car doors open, unattended, around pets.
There are many tricks described as “foolproof” ways to bring your dog along in the car safely. Leave one shoe, your wallet, or better yet, your phone, in the backseat with the dog.
This may remind you that they are there, but it will not prevent you from an error in timing your absence, or in how far the windows need to be left open.
Really the best advice I have heard came from Kay Hyman at CAS. She recommends that unless your dog is the reason for the trip, leave your pet at home. That really is the only “foolproof” approach.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to email@example.com.