Dogs, cars dangerous mix |

Dogs, cars dangerous mix

Summer heat can be lethal to canines left in vehicles

Luke Graham

Twelve-year-old Chalka sits with her owners in their car outside City Market in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. Dogs left unattended in closed cars during summer months run the risk of injury or even death from the extreme heat.

— Local officials urge residents and visitors to use common sense when it comes to leaving their pets unattended in cars.

Summer is the time of year when law enforcement agencies get the largest number of complaints about dogs left in cars, and it’s also the time of year when doing so is most hazardous to the health of canines.

“Well, the biggest thing is don’t leave dogs in the car,” said Julie Enderby, a staff member at the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter. “If it’s too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot for them.”

Leaving dogs inside vehicles in the summer heat can be especially dangerous for larger dogs, dogs with lots of fur and dogs with short noses.

“The biggest problem is people need to remember dogs don’t sweat, they pant,” veterinarian Mike Gotchey said. “When they’re in the car, they get heat exhaustion. They can get brain damage, and that can eventually lead to death.”

Under a state statute regarding cruelty to animals, pet owners face misdemeanor charges if convicted of leaving their pets in a car.

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Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Dale Coyner said it’s not uncommon for officers to receive calls about animals left in cars. And although Coyner said officers refer most of the calls to Animal Control, it’s an issue law enforcement agencies don’t take lightly.

“We certainly encourage people to not leave animals in cars for any amount of time,” Coyner said. “In the summer it can quickly exceed 100 degrees (inside a closed vehicle). These are calls we take very seriously.”

Under the animal section of the municipal code, Coyner said the law states no person should leave an animal in the car when it is 70 degrees or warmer, unless it’s determined the car is properly ventilated.

“It’s really a judgment call,” Coyner said.

Although Enderby and Gotchey advise against leaving a dog in a car, they said if a person must do so, he or she should take every precaution possible.

Those precautions include parking in shady areas, leaving car windows open and leaving a bowl of water for the dog.

“Really it’s just a matter of common sense,” Enderby said. “Usually it’s better to leave the dog at home.”

If a dog has been left for any period of time in a vehicle, Gotchey said to look for symptoms of heat exhaustion, which include panting, gums that lack color, lethargy, staggering and incoherence.

“People are pretty smart of it,” said Gotchey, adding he sees very few cases each summer. “But it can happen.”

Gotchey also cautioned people to not overexert their dogs during the summer months. Because Steamboat offers many activities suitable for people and their dogs, he said it’s especially important to make sure dogs are properly hydrated.