Unfortunately every year the news catches wind of children and dogs who have fallen victim to heat-related stress due to being locked in a vehicle exposed to sun and heat. In light of the events that transpired late last week on the mainland in British Columbia, I thought it best to re-hash an old topic, one that I actually introduced last week but failed to directly relate. Last week we talked about the effects of the sun and the heat on our canines, about how their bodies try to beat the heat, and a few ways in which we as caregivers can help Set Them Up For Success. However, I did not relate this back to a situation that many dogs face regularly in which many myths and superstitions exist.
Ever see a dog in a locked car in parking lot? Did they look warm? Panting and staring at you as you walk by? Well the issue of leaving canines and children in vehicles while their caregivers run to do that “quick” errand is not a new one. In fact, it seems every year we are reminded of why this can be such a dangerous thing.
Studies looking into what happens inside a locked vehicle are well documented these days. Concerned by continuing cases of human and animal deaths related to being in this very scenario, researchers have been pushed to analyze the situation experimentally from a variety of angles. Temperatures inside and out, in different spots in the car (foot well versus chair versus dash), the color of the car, the color of the interior of the car, whether or not the windows are sealed, cracked, or open to varying amounts, and also the impact of humidity and direct sunlight have been assessed in relation to the question “how warm does the inside of a car actually get”?
Some of the studies:
McLaren, C., Null, j., Quinn, J. (2005). Heat stress from enclosed vehicles: Moderate ambient temperature cause significant temperature rise in enclosed vehicles. Pediatrics: 116: 109-112. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/1/e109.full.pdf+html. Accessed on: May. 20th, 2014.
Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society: http://www.injuryprevention.org/states/la/hotcars/hotcars.htm
What is the take-away message from these and other studies? That regardless of the above variables (or excuses)… it is “really” warm out, or only “moderately” warm, whether you park your white car, with cloth interior in the direct sun, or your dark-coloured car with its black interior in the shade with the windows down, vehicles act much like an oven, quickly trapping heat inside, causing temperatures to rise very quickly into a dangerous zone. Compound this scenario with the inability of both young children and canines to thermoregulate like an adult human does (who would still also find themselves in a very dangerous situation), and what you think is “only a 5 minute errand” could turn into a life altering decision.
The best thing to do is plan ahead. We tell our clients “set yourself up for success“. Make sure you plan out your day to avoid having to leave your canine unattended in a vehicle to just avoid “it” and the dangers all together. Ensure you understand your municipalities laws and bylaws surrounding leaving animals unattended as different locations have developed varying levels of enforcement and punishment schedules to attack the issue and prevent it from occurring. Don’t take any chances by thinking that because you have parked in the shade, the inside of the vehicle won’t superheat. For those of us up in the Great White North, vehicles can also act like refrigerators on cold, wintery days, where hypothermia can be a factor. Either way, taking a risk to save a few minutes isn’t worth becoming one of the statistics. There is always a way to keep things positive for both you and your canine, so keep things safe, and keep them cool. #caninesbydesign