As the thermometer rises during summer, so does the risk to pets left in vehicles.
Within minutes, the temperature can top 100 degrees in a parked car, even one in the shade with the windows cracked.
That can lead to heat stroke, brain damage or death for the animal — and a possible charge of cruelty to animals for the owner.
Wasatch Front officials say they receive daily calls about animals left in cars, which almost always involve dogs. Some incidents result in a misdemeanor citation for animal cruelty that can cost up to $150; under some circumstances, a case could be prosecuted as a felony.
Salt Lake County Animal Services has taken 148 calls about pets left in cars from Jan. 1 to June 4 this year, and 116 of them were received between April 1 and June 4. The agency is predicting at least another 200 calls by the end of August.
Davis County Animal Care and Control also has started receiving the usual summertime calls about dogs in hot vehicles. In 2013, it received more than 150 cruelty calls, most of them concerning a pet left in a vehicle, from June 1 through Aug. 31 last year, according to Lead Animal Control Officer Rod Logan.
"You would think this is a no-brainer situation," Logan said. "But it happens two or three times a day here in Davis County."
Clint Thacker, Davis County Animal Care and Control director, said the agency is taking a zero tolerance stance this year on animals left in hot vehicles and will issue citations. "It could get to 120 degrees quickly in a car on a 90-degree day," he said. "It’s a pretty serious thing."
Pet owners in Salt Lake County also are being cited for leaving pets in hot vehicles. Sandy Nelson, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Animal Services, said a dog’s average body temperature is 100 to 102 degrees, and if that reaches 107 degrees or higher, the animal could suffer permanent brain damage or die.
When animal control officers respond to a call about a dog in a locked car, they first use a laser temperature gauge to determine the temperature inside the vehicle, Nelson said. Then, they check if the dog is showing signs of distress, such as heavy panting or lethargy, she said.
The officers also check if water is available for the animal, if a window is rolled down for ventilation, if there is a spot for the dog to get out of the sun and if the car is in full sun or shade. But even those steps might not be enough, Nelson said.
"Parking your vehicle with the windows rolled down slightly does not prevent your car from reaching extreme temperatures," she said.
If officers believe the dog is in distress, they will try to remove it, which could include breaking into the car. In addition to a animal cruelty charge, the owner could be cited if the dog is not licensed or vaccinated against rabies, Nelson said.
She said people who spot an animal locked in a hot vehicle should call the local animal control or police department. They should not try to break into the car themselves; if they do, they will be held liable for damage.
Carl Arky, director of communications for the Humane Society of Utah, said store parking lots are the most common place where animals are left in cars. After calling animal control or the police for help, he said, someone who sees a pet in distress should ask the store manager to make an announcement about the situation.
"We hear, ‘I just went into the store for 15 minutes.’ Then 15 minutes becomes a half hour. Most of the time they just weren’t thinking," Arky said.
To avoid these incidents, he advises pet owners to run their errands themselves in hot weather, saying, "It’s so much simpler to leave Fido at home."
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