© Alice Neff Lucan
Welcome to Central Virginia, where we go from winter to summer in a matter of days. Sadly, it is also the season to find hot dogs left in cars while the owner ‘pops’ into the grocery store for ‘just a moment.’ Who has ever gotten out of a grocery store in less than thirty minutes? An overheated dog can die in minutes, according to Earlysville veterinarian Dr. Emily Kinnaird, especially the short-nosed pugs and bull-dogs. But no breed has the ability to sweat to relieve intense heat, as we do. Dogs can only pant and pray for water.
Larry Crickenberger, who has served 13 years as an Albemarle County Animal Control Officer, says that some dog owners don’t understand one serious fact: leaving the windows open in a car may not help at all. The front and back windows of any car are huge magnifiers of heat, so leaving side windows open usually isn’t enough to relieve the animal shut inside. And if the dog is agitated, barking and panic will only increase the body temperature, causing faster overheating. Dismiss this behavior as harmless ‘separation anxiety’ and you (or Animal Control) can put your dog at risk.
Believe it or not, roughly 125 “hot dog” calls came in to Albemarle Animal Control in 2014. Officer Crickenberger said that Albemarle’s four Animal Control Officers (ACOs) will respond to calls about heat distressed dogs (call 977-9041), but many variables determine what they can do. ACOs are equipped with thermometers that can test the heat on the car seats and Crickenburger’s rule is that 75- 80 degrees is tolerable, but on a warm, not even hot, summer day, under the steady sun, car temperatures go way higher than a dog can bear.
Abusing and neglecting your companion animal is against the law in Albemarle County (and throughout Virginia). The Albemarle County Code requires a kind of ‘floor’ of care you are required to give your companion animal.
Each owner shall provide the following for his companion animal:
1. Adequate feed;
2. Adequate water;
3. Adequate shelter that is properly cleaned;
4. Adequate space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight;
5. Adequate exercise;
6. Adequate care, treatment, and transportation; and
7. Veterinary care when needed or to prevent suffering or disease transmission.
Look at number 6 again. Leaving your pets in a hot car could/might violate this requirement. Violating these rules the first time can result in charges for a Class 4 misdemeanor and the penalties increase when there are more violations after the first.
Cruelty to animals, which can take many different forms, is a Class 1 misdemeanor and can result in a jail term and fines. It is also illegal to abandon or dump an animal, which is a Class 3 misdemeanor. That can result in fines. So the culprit who dumps an animal along side the road risks penalties. It is a thoughtless act when we have so many animal rescue shelters in our area.
You can find this section of the Albemarle County Code online; see Chapter 4, Animals and Fowl, for the law protecting companion animals. But it’s not a matter of knowing the bits and details of the law. Common human decency covers most of it, along with kindness.
Disclaimer: Don’t rely on this information as legal advice. Ask a lawyer who takes you as a client and can get your specific facts first hand. The tiniest circumstance can change any outcome.