Even before the first official day of summer, the southeastern U.S. has been wracked with an oppressive heatwave. While many people could go to a pool or stay inside and turn up their air conditioning, animals do not necessarily have the same options. Recent news reports of the deaths of thousands of cattle in southwestern Kansas illustrate the potentially deadly repercussions of exposure to sun, heat, and humidity.
Officer Jayme Clark of the Martinsville Police Department’s Animal Control Division reminded pet-owners that animals need to be kept cool as well, and those who fail to properly care for their pets could face legal repercussions.
Clark’s warning comes on the heels of reports of the death of thousands of cattle in southwestern Kansas which have been linked to heat stress brought on by high temperatures and high humidity.
In the city, Clark said, “my main focus is always going to be companion animals and most of the time, it’s going to be dogs that are left outside because they’re going to be the ones that are left tied. They’re going to be left in a position where they may not be able to get decent shelter. Then we have our shopping district here in the city where people will take their dogs with them to shop and leave them in the car.”
He said one of the most important factors he and other officers look at is temperature.
“If it’s 85 degrees outside, it’s going to be close to 90 to 100 degrees inside a car, even with the window cracked. That makes it hard for a person to breathe, let alone an animal,” he said. “Dogs don’t sweat, people do. That’s how we cool ourselves off. The way a dog cools itself off is by panting. If all they’re breathing in is hot air, their internal body temperature is going to be getting hotter and hotter.”
Clark said he has received only one call so far this year for a dog left inside a car. A man left his dog with some water in his vehicle while he went into a restaurant to eat.
“He did everything he could to make it comfortable, but the dog was still panting when he got back. We had a conversation. He said he thought he was caring for the dog,” Clark recalled.
Clark said he told the man while he understood the train of thought, “it’s already a hot day. It was about 93 degrees outside.”
Clark said he suggested the man leave his dog at home next time.
“The best practice is, if I’m going to be inside, if I’m going to turn my vehicle off with no airflow, just leave the dog at home,” he said.
Similarly, if an animal is tethered outdoors, a city ordinance states that it is illegal to tether an animal “when the outside temperature is equal to or less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit or greater than 85 degrees Fahrenheit unless shelter is provided.”
“So, if you take your dog outside and you tie it for 5 minutes to use the bathroom and it does not have shelter and it’s 90 degrees, you’re in violation of that tethering ordinance,” Clark said, and added that violation of the ordinance was a Class 4 misdemeanor.
“We’ve already had an instance in the city where I’ve had to seize two animals” who were left tethered outside without adequate shelter in the heat, Clark said.
“Even after they had been put in the dog box, which has air conditioning, and sat in the vet’s office waiting for their temperature to be taken, their body temperatures were 104 – even after they had been cooling off in an air conditioned truck and an air conditioned office,” he said, adding that the normal body temperature for a dog was around 100 degrees.
Clark said pet owners also need to ensure their companion animals have adequate water. By state code, he said, “adequate means potable. That means if you or I would drink the water, it’s safe for the dog to drink it. But if you’re not going to drink the water that you have out for your dog, then you need to clean the bowl and give them fresh water. I deal with so many people that I write this citation for because their dog’s bucket looks like a dirty fish tank.”
He cautioned pet owners against walking their dogs on sidewalks, streets, or other paved areas during the high heat of midday as the hot surfaces could damage their paws. Rather, walking the animals on grass or other unpaved surfaces, or walking during cooler temperatures, will help protect them from injury.
Clark said that ordinance violations related to pets are primarily complaint driven. In hot weather, he said calls about tethered animals are received daily from locations all around the city.
Once a call is received, an officer investigates and assesses the situation.
“Our first goal is always to try to make contact with the owner to resolve the issue without having to take the dog or bust a (vehicle) window or something like that,” he said. Ultimately, educating pet owners about their responsibilities to their companion animals is key.
Anyone with any questions about law regarding the care of animals or anyone who would need to report the mistreatment of an animal can call (276) 403-5309. In the event of an emergency, dial 911.