Deadly risk: Pets in parked cars

This Monday, July 2, 2012 photo shows Los Angeles Police Officer Jim Cherrette holding a temperature record stick in Los Angeles to demonstrate how hot a closed car can get. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

You don't need a veterinarian's license to know the deadly dangers all too often inflicted upon pets left in cars as the interior heat rises. Nor should it take an expert to know that people who leave dogs or cats in cars risk not just the animals' lives but serious legal penalties for cruelty to animals.

Yet another grimly familiar local confirmation of those perils came this week when Mount Pleasant police reported that nine Cavalier King Charles Spaniels died after being left in a parked SUV.

Police have charged a local physician in that case. If found guilty, he faces greater penalties now than he would have for the same offense just 10 weeks ago.

That's because in June the General Assembly passed, and Gov. Nikki Haley signed, legislation increasing the maximum penalty for first-time offenders found guilty of ill treatment of animals to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Previously, the punishments for first-time offenders were limited to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The new law also expands judges' authority to impose the maximum sentence.

Of course, those who put their pets at risk in parked vehicles don't intend them any harm.

But just as ignorance of a law is no excuse for violating it, neither is ignorance of the sudden death that pets can suffer because of reckless neglect.

If you doubt that a parked car can heat up in a hurry, conduct your own science experiment by sitting in one for even a brief period. If sunlight is shining on any part of that vehicle, you'll also get a solar- energy lesson.

As Dr. Sarah Boyd, a veterinarian and director of shelter health and wellness at the Charleston Animal Society, put it Wednesday: "Just seconds in a car can make an animal's internal temperature rise to a dangerous level. The increased temperature can lead to heat stroke and eventual death."

The CAS release added: "Elderly, overweight and pets with heart or lung diseases are especially at risk for heat stroke."

Pets with short muzzles (pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats) are particularly prone to overheating because they can't pant.

Yet any dog or cat is vulnerable to rapid, and possibly fatal, overheating when left in a parked car.

That doesn't just mean you shouldn't leave your pet in a parked car for an extended period.

That means you shouldn't leave your pet in a parked car for any period.


And if you do, you're taking a foolish chance of not only getting in trouble with the law, but of subjecting an innocent animal to a sad and painful demise.