“If You See Something, Say Something™” is a public awareness campaign, used by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to raise public awareness of terrorism and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local law enforcement. However, the message of the campaign has gone beyond its initial goal, now having concerned citizens reporting all crimes, including acts of animal cruelty.
“Without phone calls from the concerned citizens who report cruelty in their neighborhoods, we wouldn’t know about most instances of animal abuse,” says ASPCA Supervisory Special Investigator Annemarie Lucas, whom has appeared on Animal Planet’s Animal Precinct.
Recently, after seeing a man leave his Yorkshire terrier in his black Mercedes on Mott Street, in New York City’s Chinatown, I called 311 and alerted local authorities of his mistreatment of his animal. With an afternoon temperature reported at 86°F, I feared that the dog left in the car would suffer from heat stroke or die.
According to veterinarian Will Draper, DVM of The Village Vets in Georgia, “With the record high temperatures we are seeing across the country, an increase in heatstroke cases in dogs.” Heat stroke, a result of severe hyperthermia (body core temperatures of 105 degrees or greater), is a life threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include: heavy panting, disorientation, dark but very red gums (sometimes with drooling of very thick saliva), and inability to walk or get up. Any of these signs require immediate medical attention. To avoid heat stroke, Dr. Draper advises “to make sure your dog has access to plenty of clean, cool water, and a cool place to get away from the heat.”
Another way to avoid heat stroke is avoid leaving your pet in a parked car. Although this is the reported warning that we hear from animal protection agencies and organizations as well as from the media each year, animals continue to die.
One of the more notable cases involved 24-year-old Quincy Vanderbilt. In 2009, he left his dog in a hot car while his girlfriend auditioned for “American Idol” in Denver, Colorado. Vanderbilt had driven with his girlfriend from North Dakota for the open audition and left his small dog, in the car with the windows rolled up. He had apparently planned to check on the animal periodically throughout the day, but neglected to do so until 2 p.m., by which time the car had been parked in hot weather for a number of hours. When Vanderbilt arrived to check on the dog, it was already dead. He was served with a criminal summons and complaint, charging him with cruelty to animals – a misdemeanor.
Just prior to the incident, Idol judge Simon Cowell had taped a public service announcement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that warned pet owners of the dangers of leaving animals in cars. Needless to say, after the incident, the video was distributed as soon as possible. Other celebrities including actress and singer, Laura Bell Bundy in 2011 and actress and model, Elisabetta Canalis in July, 2012 have also filmed PETA PSAs regarding this topic.
People running errands are the most common offenders said Los Angeles Police Officer Jim Cherrette. Animal control officers advise that if you see a dog left in a car on a hot day, take down the car’s color, make, model, license plate number and the exact location of the car (such as an address or a section in a parking lot). Call area police or local humane authorities, providing them with the necessary information as well as informing the telephone representative of the condition of the dog. Wait until the situation has been resolved before leaving the scene.
Moreover, most pet owners who have committed this offense do not realize that until they come face-to-face with the police that it may be illegal to leave your dog in a parked car.
According to the Animal Health and Historical Center of Michigan State University College of Law (last updated in 2010), there are 14 states (AZ, CA, IL, ME, MD, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, SD, VT, and WV) that have statutes that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in confined vehicle. Most of these laws set forth that the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle. Furthermore, the laws note that in order for a person to violate the various state laws, conditions have to endanger an animal’s life. Some of the statutes specifically reference extreme temperatures, lack of adequate ventilation, or failing to provide food or drink.
In New York State, the Agriculture and Markets Statute 353-d gives officers authority to remove an animal from car in extreme temperature. If officers do, the police persons are required to leave a notice, seek treatment for the dog, and then, deliver the animal to a local shelter. First offense fines run from $50 to $100. Moreover, the statute does not hold officers criminally or civilly liable for actions taken reasonably and in good faith in carrying out their duties.
Although the officers did not remove the dog from the parked car on Mott Street, business persons informed the dog owners when they returned to their car that police had come to check on their pet. When they opened the door, they found a weak, thirsty dog that could barely stand.
“He obviously was suffering from heat stroke,” said a area resident and dog owner who was not willing to be identified.
With help of bystanders, the dog was given water and wrapped in cool towels. Other helpful dog owners googled nearby veterinarians on smartphones and suggested the owners take the pooch to be treated.
Hopefully, these pet owners have learned that it is against the law to leave their dog in an unattended vehicle in New York State and will never do it again. Moreover, I hope that if you see a dog mistreated, you will call authorities and say something.