The Garden Route SPCA has made a bold move and changed the law. Humans who leave their dogs untended in the car in the Eden district can now be fined up to R1000. Why the strictness?
It’s because cars can kill dogs even when they’re stationary and switched off. How? Heat. Sit in a closed car on a 26-degree day. How does it feel when the temperature rises to 32 in ten minutes? A panting dog can’t cool herself if the air she’s breathing is getting hotter and hotter! This is probably the last thing that a hurried human who’s “just popping into the supermarket for five minutes” thinks about. Problem is, life is unpredictable and five minutes often leads to 55 minutes, by which time the car is boiling. Boiling cars can lead to swooning dogs who can die from heatstroke in minutes.
What to do if you see a dog left untended in a car
- Make sure it is, in fact, a dog – not a crumpled hoodie or an empty dog box. You’d be surprised.
- Keep your distance – if you approach the car rapidly, the doggie may feel threatened which could cause upset that makes the situation worse.
- Watch the dog for a while – are there signs of heat distress? Is his condition changing? Does the dog need water?
Signs of heatstroke in a dog include: restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, lack of coordination.
Can you safely get her water without trespassing? E.g. In the case of an open bakkie. Do it. Carefully. (Read this for how to approach a dog you don’t know more safely).
- Can you shade the car? A flattened cardboard box will help. Ask nearby shops for assistance.
- Try find the human carer by talking to people nearby e.g. security guards. If there’s an intercom system on the nearby building, ask them to call for the owner and include the number plate and a description of the dog and the vehicle.
- Look for a telephone number on a sign or piece of paper inside the car or on the windscreen. Sometimes concerned owners leave their numbers visible.
- If the dog is in distress, call your local SPCA immediately. They care about all animals, stray, wild or homed. Describe the dog’s exact condition to them and get their advice. If they’re coming to inspect, find out how soon they can arrive. Ask them how you can help the dog immediately.
- Very important: Don’t leave the scene. If you must, ask someone else to stand in for you and take notes.
- Take your own notes. Record what’s happening: when you first noticed the dog, how long it’s been, a description of the dog, her symptoms, and the car registration. If you have a smartphone, take video, otherwise, write it down – you might not remember it later. This will be useful if the authorities like the SPCA or SAPS or the owner ask questions later.
Garden Route SPCA, George branch – 044 878 1990/1993
Garden Route SPCA, George, emergency after hours – 082 378 7384
Garden Route SPCA, Mossel Bay branch – 044 693 0824
Garden Route SPCA, Mossel Bay, emergency after hours – 072 287 1761
SAPS Garden Route – 10111 (landline)
SAPS Garden Route – 112 (mobile)
- If you meet the owner, be nice. That could be you, you know…
It’s not always possible to plan ahead. You can’t schedule emergencies or holdups. These tips will help your dog stay safe in the car.
If you are forced to leave your dog in a car, follow these ten tips:
- Take a friend with to stay in the car with your pooch or ask someone nearby to stay with the dog. Maybe there’s an entrepreneurial car guard nearby looking for a good tip.
- Give your dog something to settle the nerves. CalmEze is a popular, non-prescription choice.
- Leave the aircon on with the car locked. Some newer cars can do this.
- Or, if you can’t leave the aircon on safely, attach a battery-operated fan to the window. Your dog needs to be familiar with it and know not to eat it, though.
- Leave multiple water sources inside the car. A secured, upright water feeder is better than an open bowl which can be tipped over.
- Make sure the water you’ve provided is cool. Add an ice cube that won’t cause overflow.
- Park in a quiet, heavily-shaded or covered area e.g. well-ventilated, underground parking. Light shade is often not enough cover to prevent heat stroke.
- Put sun shades up in the window. It will help keep the interior of the car quiet and cool.
- Leave your contact details in the window. Concerned citizens can let you know if something is wrong. It may also prevent panicking humans from breaking your car window to ‘save’ your dog.
- NEVER, EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR WITH THE WINDOWS CLOSED. It could cost you a lot more than R1000.
Despite progress with the law, the issue is widespread and ongoing and thousands of people don’t realise the very real risks. If we work together, we can help dogs suffer less.
What else can I do to protect dogs from dying in hot cars?
- Educate your friends and family about the serious risks of leaving animals in the car.
- Approach local business to support an awareness drive. They could post signs in summer pointing out the risks and/or ask people to leave their dogs at home. Progressive malls might even consider a dog-sitting service.
- Start lobbying for the local law to be changed to support animal rights more. You’ll be surprised what a survey and a word with a judge can do for animals all around you.