When it’s hot outside, police say, it’s best to leave pets at home

Westerly Animal Control Officer Art Smith demonstrates use of a thermal sensor, which help determine the temperature inside a car when a complaint is made regarding an unattended pet in a car. Sun file photo

WESTERLY — Fall is fast approaching and with it, shorter days and cooler temperatures. Don’t let the changing weather outside fool you — it’s still not safe to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle.

Westerly police and Animal Control Officer Art Smith said the department will continue to enforce and educate the public after a record-high number of complaints regarding dogs left in hot cars this summer. Smith said it was not uncommon during July and August to receive “as many as three complaints in a single day,”

The rise in complaints isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, and is partially the result of more residents stepping up to report possible dangers, Smith said. It also shows an ongoing need to educate the public and prevent owners from making bad decisions that could harm their pet.

“There is some good news here — we are finding that people are often times reporting things that maybe they weren’t speaking up about before,” Smith said. He said he encourages residents to call for assistance if they are unsure there is a danger.

According to a study conducted through the National Safety Council, a non-profit agency that promotes health and safety in the U.S., a 70-degree may seem mild but it can make for very dangerous conditions for pets, or even children, who are left in a parked car.

The study, which tested conditions in the San Francisco area, found that when the temperature outside was at 72 degrees, the temperature inside a test car parked in the sun reached 93 degrees within 10 minutes, 105 degrees in 20 minutes, 110 degrees in 30 minutes, and 119 degrees in 60 minutes. Cracking a window didn’t help much either, only causing a slight delay in how quickly the temperature would rise.

That difference in heat inside the car is exactly why a 35-year-old Hartford man was charged on Aug. 31 with leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle under hazardous conditions. The temperature reached a high of just 82 degrees outdoors that day.

A Westerly police report said the man, Frederic L. Way III, had parked along High Street during the early afternoon and left his dog in the car for an estimated hour and 15 minutes. Upon receiving complaints, the police used a thermal sensor which found the car had a low temperature of 92 in a shaded corner, but a peak temperature of 110 degrees in the sun.

The goal of enforcement isn’t necessarily to issue citations, Smith said, but in situations where an owner is unresponsive or spends extended time away from a vehicle, officers often are left with no other choice. If necessary, Smith also warned pet owners that the department will do what they need to including breaking a window if it is determined that an animal in the car is in danger.

Under the Westerly ordinance, 7614(c), the department is allowed to enter any vehicle where there is a present danger.

“No person shall leave an animal in an unattended vehicle when the conditions prove to be hazardous to the animal’s health and well-being,” the statute reads. “It shall be the determination of the Animal Control Officer or police officer on scene if a violation has occurred and if extraction of said animal is required by any means necessary. Determination shall be made by simple observation or with the use of a thermometer.”

When it comes to longer trips or running errands, Smith said the best practice is to simply leave your pet at home. Although the intent is usually a fun family day, he said errands rarely end up being a simple in-and-out and even with the best of intentions, it puts the animal is harm’s way.

“The best advice I have for people is to exercise common sense,” Smith said. “If owner’s don’t take a moment to consider the dangers, it could end in tragedy.”

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