With stifling heat in the forecast for the London region this week, the Humane Society of London and Middlesex and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) are once again reminding the public about the dangers of leaving animals unattended in vehicles.
The reminder comes amid a two-day heat spell with humidex values in the low 40s which has prompted heat warnings from Environment Canada and the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
Vehicle interiors, even with the windows left open a crack, can become extremely hot within a short period of time, putting animals at risk of heat-related illness, including heatstroke, and possible death. On a 21 C day, the inside of a car can reach 32 C within 10 minutes, and 37 C within 20 minutes, according to Humane Canada.
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“We know that people’s intention, often, is to go into a store – it’d be a short period of time – but time elapses very quickly,” said Bonnie Bishop, associate director with the OSPCA.
“The public tends to think that by leaving windows down a crack that that is sufficient to keep the vehicle cool, but we know that cars and vehicles heat up very, very quickly, and even with the windows down a short distance, there’s not enough ventilation and to keep the animal cool.”
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According to the OSPCA, dogs have a limited ability to sweat, and even a short time in a hot environment can be life-threatening.
A normal body temperature for a dog is around 39 C, according to the agency. “A temperature of 41 C can be withstood only for a very short time before irreparable brain damage or even death can occur,” an OSPCA blog post reads.
Signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, drooling, listlessness, an inability to stand, and in a worst case scenario, unconsciousness, Bishop said.
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Bishop notes more people are traveling with their pets, and says people should take extra precautions on hot days, including making detours at pet friendly rest stops.
“Never leave an animal unattended in a car. If you are traveling alone, you can’t take your pet in or you don’t have someone who can stay with the animal in the car to ensure that temperatures maintain a constant temperature, then we encourage people to leave your pet at home where they’re safe,” Bishop said.
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Under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act, police and welfare inspectors are allowed to enter vehicles to help pets in distress, said Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, in an email.
“The legislation also has the strongest penalties in the country for people who violate animal welfare laws, including causing distress to an animal,” Ross said.
According to the province, violating laws under the act can result in sentences including: up to two years in jail, fines of up to $130,000 against an individual on a first offence, or up to $500,000 against a corporation on a first offence, a lifetime ban on owning an animal, or other penalties.
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The PAWS Act which came into effect at the start of 2020, replaced the OSPCA Act, and transitioned enforcement of Ontario’s animal cruelty legislation back to the province.
The move prompted the creation of a 24-hour toll-free tipline — 1-833-9-ANIMAL (264625) — where people can report concerns of animal abuse or distress.
“We encourage the public who sees an animal in a car, and an animal suffering in the heat, certainly to reach out to the the Provincial Animal Welfare (tipline) … or contact local police so that animal can get immediate attention,” Bishop said.
No figures were available from London police or the Ministry of the Solicitor General on how often animals are found unattended in vehicles in either the City of London or the province overall.
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