As soon as I got out of my car, I heard him bark.
With the thermometer soaring 90 degrees in the shade, the Benji-like dog peered up at me from the driver’s seat of a blue Toyota. Sticking his nose out the 3-inch crack atop the window, he barked again: A cry for help.
If I have one super power, it’s parking next to dogs in hot cars. I don’t do it on purpose. It ruins my day. Whether I’m at the mall or Walmart or the grocery store, wherever I go, there they are.
On this particular day, tar bubbled on the cracks of the parking lot at St. Clair Square. I told my then 12-year-old son to get in our car and turn on the air conditioner. It was way too hot for him to stand outside in the full sun.
I pulled out my cell phone and called the Fairview Heights police.
A bicycle patrol officer pedaled up about five minutes later, wiping his sweaty forehead with a Kleenex. Soon after, the dog’s owner moseyed up eating a hamburger.
What happened next was not pretty. Though no citation was issued, I assure you Mr. Burger got the point.
And the point is: Don’t lock your dog in a hot car.
To be generous, some “hot car” offenders love their pets, which is why they take them along on errands. They think, “I’m just running into the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk. Fluffy will be OK for a few minutes.”
“A few minutes” often turns into 10 or 15. Even if it didn’t, a few minutes is way too long.
Fact: It doesn’t have to be hot outside for it to be dangerous inside a car. Temperature spikes happen quickly and cracking the window doesn’t help. On a mild, sunny day of 73 degrees, the interior of an SUV can heat up to 100 degrees in just 10 minutes. Multiply that by the fact dogs don’t sweat and they’re wearing fur coats … Well, you do the math.
A 2005 Stanford University School of Medicine study showed that a car’s interior can heat up by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour — regardless of the ambient temperature. This means, on a sunny day, even 60 degrees can be too warm to leave a dog in the car.
Yet people do it all the time.
So what do you do if you see a dog locked in a hot car? Well, I’ll tell you what you don’t do. You don’t think, “Isn’t that terrible?” and walk on by like it’s not your problem. You saw it, which means you are that dog’s super hero. Don’t assume the next passerby will don the cape.
“It’s just so confusing,” said Erica Lee-Glover, 34, of Cahokia, who recently spotted a small Shih Tzu locked inside a hot car on the Belleville Walmart parking lot.
“What do you do? Who do you call?”
Lee-Glover, who works at Cato Fashions, spied the little dog on her lunch break. She had intended to run inside Walmart to grab a small salad, but instead, she jotted down the car’s license plate and hurried to the store’s customer service desk.
“They said they would page the license number,” she remembered. “I went back and waited by the car but nobody came. It was over 90 degrees outside. I had to leave and clock back into work with that poor little dog still in that car. I still worry about what happened to him. Now I think maybe I should have called the police.”
She should have. Faced with a similar dilemma, so should you.
“We’ll go out and try to find the owner,” said Sergeant Gary Becker of the Belleville Police Department. “If we think the dog is in distress we’ll try to open the vehicle. We’ll try to educate the owner and look to see if there’s any history of them doing this before. It’s up to the officer’s discretion whether or not to ticket the owner.”
Fairview Heights Police Lt. Mike Hoguet, a former police K-9 handler, said his department also comes to the aid of dogs locked in hot cars.
“Common sense would dictate to call the police if a dog is in a hot car and in distress,” he said.
The sooner the dog gets help, the better. And the sooner the dog’s owner gets a wake-up call, the better, too.
“You wouldn’t leave a baby in a hot car. So you shouldn’t leave a dog,” said Lee-Glover, who still wishes she could have done more for that Shih Tzu. “I know some people will say, ‘Dogs aren’t human, so it doesn’t matter.’ But to a lot of us, our dogs are like our children. And even if they aren’t, you don’t let them bake in a hot car.”
Michelle Meehan Schrader is a writer and animal welfare advocate who sits on the board of the Belleville Area Humane Society.