The early arrival of hot temperatures this year meant an early start on heat-related concerns for people who work in animal welfare.
By June 1, investigators for the SPCA Serving Erie County had already written two citations for people who left their dogs in hot cars, and briefly seized two dogs left tied to a tree near a local beach.
"There's a lot of awareness" of the danger pets can suffer in hot weather, says Jeffrey Eyre, who started in May as the director of animal cruelty, rescue and community response for the SPCA. "we are getting more calls about it. I think the message is getting out a little bit more."
Eyre says, "Both my agents are getting personally involved, demanding that somebody act and standing by until somebody takes care of the problem."
SPCA investigators carry special equipment, including a thermometer to measure the temperature inside a parked car, to determine whether animals are in immediate danger.
In most cases, owners have good intentions when they take dogs out and unwittingly expose them to dangerous situations, says Barbara Frazier, behavior and training supervisor at the SPCA. "I don't think anybody is taking their dogs out or to an event to be mean to their dogs or to punish their dogs, but they think, ‘My dog would rather be out with us than home by himself.' "
The incident at the beach is an example of a good owner who made a bad decision, says Eyre. "The animals were in great condition; obviously it was just an unfortunate mistake [by the owner], but we don't want to have that ever happen again."
SPCA investigators "did an evaluation of the situation and released the animals back to the owner with the stipulation that our investigators will be coming out to check on those animals in their home," says Eyre. "So a lot of it is just education."
Choosing to move dogs to an open truck bed rather than leaving them inside the cab is not a good solution, says Eyre. "If they tie the dog [in the truck bed]with a short lead, what they don't understand is that if the dog jumps out of the truck it could snap its neck and die." Leashing dogs in the bed of a truck, he says, whether it is parked or moving, is not safe "in any way, shape or form."
Dogs that are left outside on hot days, whether in a yard, a run or a porch, must have access to shade and water. "the shelter has to be appropriate for the animal and protected from the environment," which in this case is heat, says Eyre.
With the arrival of summer festivals, both Eyre and Frazier suggested that pet owners think twice before bringing their dogs to one of the area's crowded, hectic events. Eyre suggested that dog owners take a minute and try to experience the event from a dog's point of view.
"Sit down at that animal's viewpoint, a foot or two feet off the ground," he says. "Imagine yourself walking at that level through the crowds at Allentown. The pavement is hot, people are crowding around, maybe dropping things, you can't look up because the sun is bright, and there's no place to lie down and relax."
If you think that the noises, smells and sights might bother you, imagine how your dog–with his or her keener senses –is perceiving them.
"Animals smell things, see things and hear things much better than we do," says Eyre. "So if you're getting bothered by crowds, the noise and the smells, the dog is experiencing it many times worse. We can see down a sidewalk, we can see spaces between people, and an animal just sees feet and legs."
"There are so many people, smells and experiences that could make a dog nervous and anxious in a crowded public place," says Frazier, "walking through that multitude of legs, strollers, low-hanging snacks, food on the ground and other dogs in the crowd that might bark at your dog, too."
People who bring their dogs to crowded festivals "aren't thinking about things like the heat, providing water or even where the dog is going to be able to eliminate," says Frazier. "We wear shoes on our feet. What about the heat from the pavement on their pads? Some people in a crowd are afraid of dogs and their reaction will cause further stress to the dog."
Even dogs that enjoy meeting people under normal circumstances might be easily overwhelmed by crowds at a festival, especially by people who reach out quickly for the dog's head or children who attempt to grab the dog for a hug.
"When you have a lot of children reaching for and handling a pet, the owner can miss the signs of stress that the dog is exhibiting," says Frazier. These subtle signs can include a dog "standing with its tail tucked, trying to hide or licking its lips as a sign of anxiety. This can escalate to barking and growling and even snapping."
Rather than force a dog to endure the heat, crowds, noise and activity at a large festival, says Frazier, "Take your dog for a walk before or after, and go to the festival yourself."
If you witness an animal in need of help, call the SPCA at 875-7360. After business hours or in an emergency, call 827-1609.