Not fair for Fido, Dog left in hot vehicle

A thermometer inserted through a narrowly open window read 117 degrees. Inside the vehicle was a Chihuahua-sized dog. The owner of the dog was attending the North Dakota State Fair.

Stacy Darby, Jamestown, entered a guilty plea in front of Minot Municipal Court Judge Ashley Beall Tuesday. The charge was leaving an unattended animal in a motor vehicle. Minot’s Code of Ordinances classifies the charge as an infraction, a level below a misdemeanor.

Judge Beall handed down a sentence of $150 in fines and fees and ordered Darby to complete 20 hours of community service. Prior to sentencing Darby told the court it was “very much my luck,” referring to dogs not being allowed on the fairgrounds and it being a sunny day. According to the National Weather Service the temperature in Minot reached 77 degrees.

Minot Police twice responded to a complaint of a dog under duress in the parking lot of Trinity Riverside on July 21. The first check of the vehicle and dog occurred at 2:45 p.m. The responding officer determined the dog was doing fine and had water available. A second call about 4 p.m. resulted in another check on the dog. It was then a thermometer probe was used and the 117 degree temperature inside the vehicle was recorded.

Police called a locksmith to open the vehicle so the dog could be removed. While waiting for the locksmith, Darby returned to the vehicle and opened it. She told police that the dog was doing fine.

Minot PD Animal Control Officer Mary Lovro told the Minot Daily News that police are authorized to “remove an animal that is left in a vehicle using any reasonable means.”

“In just 10 minutes a dog can be dying,” said Lovro. “Inside a vehicle they can really be struggling to breathe. We look at the condition of the animal. People really need to know what their pet’s health conditions are.”

Older animals are generally less tolerant of heat than young animals and much more susceptible to suffering dehabilitating heat stroke. Some studies have shown temperatures inside a vehicle can rise nearly 30 degrees in as little as 20 minutes. Having water available can help prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion but not heat stroke.

Leaving windows partially open while leaving pets in their vehicle might make owners feel like they are doing the right thing but, in reality, leaving windows open an inch or two has virtually no impact on rising temperatures inside a vehicle.

Some pet owners will leave an animal in their vehicle with the motor running and the air conditioning on, thinking the animal will stay cool. However, motors can quit running, air conditioning fail and pets can contact buttons or switches that turn the AC off. The result is that the vehicle’s interior will heat up within minutes.

Twenty-eight states have laws against people leaving pets in an unattended vehicle, some ban the practice entirely. Minot’s ordinance, in part, reads: “No person shall leave an animal unattended in a motor vehicle in a manner as to, or under circumstances which, endanger its health or safety. As provided in Section 36-21.2-12, N.D.C.C. any police officer may use reasonable means to enter a motor vehicle and to remove an animal that has been left in the vehicle in violation of this section.”