According to Humane Pennsylvania, the state’s political voice for animals, on a 72 degree day, a car’s internal temperature can heat up to 116 degrees in an hour. On an 80 degree day, a car’s internal temperature can shoot up to a sweltering 99 degrees in just 10 minutes. Lowering the window has been shown to have little effect on a car’s temperature.
Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Humane Society claims it only takes 5-10 minutes for a heatstroke to affect your dog and 6 minutes for Fido to die in a hot car.
Thanks to House Bill 1216, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf last October, law enforcement agencies have been empowered to protect dogs and cats left unattended in hot cars.
The new law allows a police officer, humane officer, animal control officer or other public safety professional to remove a dog or cat from an unattended motor vehicle if they believe the dog or cat is in imminent danger or harm after a reasonable search for the operator of the vehicle. It also protects a police officer, humane officer or public safety professional who removes an animal from an unattended vehicle from liability for any damages, but requires that an officer leave a conspicuous note for the owner stating the officer’s information and information about where to pick up the pet.
Shannon Cagle, humane officer with the Humane Society of Greene County, said that, if she gets a report of an animal endangered in a hot parked car she first calls 911. At the scene of the incident, she aims her radar gun at the car to record and photograph the internal temperature then awaits the arrival of either an officer from the sheriff’s department or a local police department.
“If the animal is lucid and coherent, we stay with it and try to find its owner,” she said. “If it’s in dire need and requires medical attention, we take it to an animal hospital. Fortunately, I’ve not encountered such an incident this past summer.”
In Waynesburg, Police Chief Thomas Ankrom said his department doesn’t run into these incidents too often. When his department has gotten calls reporting animals left in cars this summer, it’s been a case where the outside temperature was in the 70s, the windows were cracked open and the owner made a quick stop to pick something up.
“When we encountered an incident, we tried to educate the owners,” he said. “A lot of people were unaware of the new law, especially when it first passed.”
With winter just a few months away, residents should also know that there are laws that protect animals during especially cold spells. In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that imposed hefty penalties on those who endanger the safety and well-being of their pets, especially those who leave their pets exposed to extreme temperatures.
“When the new law went into effect, we got phone calls from people reporting dogs tethered outdoors in cold weather,” said Jane Gapen, Greene County Humane Society executive director. “When the humane society police officers and I went out to answer the calls, we tried to educate people instead of prosecute them because it was a new law. I’d say that around 95% of the people we visited were glad to know of the new law and changed their behavior accordingly.”
This past summer, Cagle said she went out to investigate reports of tethered dogs left outdoors without shade. She said she educated people that the law requires dog owners to have a shelter with four sides and a roof that’s also big enough for the animal to turn around comfortably.
“The shelter can’t be a crate,” Cagle said. “Some have hung a tarp between two trees, but that isn’t considered adequate shelter either. If I find someone not providing their dogs with adequate shelter from the sun, I usually give them two weeks to correct the situation. When I go back to revisit the owner, I find that 99% of the time they’ve complied. It’s usually been just a matter of them not knowing the law.”
With winter coming on, Cagle recommends that a dog shelter be placed on a pallet to keep it dry and the floor lined with hay or straw. A blanket, she said, just won’t do because it gets wet and freezes in cold weather.
Other laws cover tethered animals. Act 10 states a dog cannot be tethered for longer than 30 minutes in temperatures above 90 or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, animals must be provided sanitary shelter that allows them to maintain normal body temperature and keeps them dry all year.
The animal protection laws signed by Gov. Wolf in 2017 mandate that no dog should be tethered more than nine hours in a 24-hour period. The tether must be the longer than 3 times the length of the dog from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail or 10 feet, whichever is longer, and the dog cannot be left outdoors more than 30 minutes in extreme temperatures. They must also have water and shade and must be secured by an appropriate collar.
“When we get reports of animals living in bad conditions, we investigate and call in the state dog law officer based in Washington County,” Ankrom said. “Penalties for neglect and abuse include fines, even jail time, and can be quite hefty.”
For more information on animal safety laws, or to report an endangered animal, call the Greene County Humane Society at 724-627-9988.