WATAUGA — According to PETA, 18 pets around the country have been lost to heat-related deaths in 2021, as of Friday, July 2, and 54 have been rescued from potentially fatal circumstances.
PETA lists the circumstances of each reported death and rescue, noting a majority of the pets were left in cars or outside on hot days. With temperatures rising, pets are finding themselves in more situations that could lead to overheating.
“There’s only so much panting dogs can do,” Watauga Humane Society President Monique Eckerd said. “They don’t sweat and cats don’t pant much, so that’s the only way they have to cool off. If you’re pulling in 90 degree air, you’re not going to be able to cool off.”
Eckerd noted that most of the time when an animal is left in the car, their owner made a stop to shop, planning to run in and out before the car gets too hot.
A study from San Francisco State University’s Department of Geosciences found that a car can reach 89 degrees in only 10 minutes while the outside air temperature is 70 degrees.
The highest recorded temperature in Boone during June, according to the National Weather Service, was 82 degrees on June 22. According to the SFSU study, a car in 80 degree weather can reach 99 degrees in 10 minutes, 109 degrees in 20 minutes and 114 degrees in 30 minutes.
In extreme circumstances, a car left in 95 degree weather can reach 138 degrees in one hour.
“I know people who are just wonderful pet owners and and they’ll say, ‘I’m just going to stop for 10 minutes,’” Eckerd said. “I’ve never even considered it. (Pets are) much happier at home or in the shade with a bottle of water.”
Eckerd said the Humane Society and Watauga Animal Control get calls about pets left in cars “a couple of times per year,” which she noted is an easily avoidable situation. However, pet owners still have to be wary of hot weather outside of the parking lot.
“I think people have to think about it from the point that (cats and dogs) are wearing a fur coat and they’re barefoot,” Eckerd said. “They’re really good about not showing that they’re uncomfortable.”
Because of that, Eckerd said pet owners should be vigilant about letting their pets outside or taking them on walks. She noted that when letting pets outside to make sure there is a shaded place they can spend time cooling and that water is available. At the same time, Eckerd recommended that when walking a pet, keeping them on the grass when the pavement can reach high temperatures.
However, pets are not the only ones who should not be left in a hot car, with children also being at risk.
According to the National Safety Council, both 2018 and 2019 saw a record number of 53 children under the age of 15 die after being left in a hot vehicle.
Boone Police Department Community Resource Officer Kat Eller said BPD receives calls “on occasion” about children or pets left in cars, including both hot and cold weather situations.
Eller noted good samaritan laws in North Carolina that provide immunity for people entering other peoples’ vehicles under the pretext of saving an animal or human. However, Eller noted that should someone find themselves in such a situation, it would be best to call law enforcement first.
Ultimately, Eller said it is best to avoid the situation in the first place.
“You should always take your child into the store with you,” Eller said. “I understand that life gets busy, you just plan to run in and run back out. You may think that’s OK, the car is locked and the air conditioner is on, but even with that mechanical failures happen. … You just never know, systems fail and it’s just not worth the risk.”
Eller noted that leaving children or pets in cars opens the door for not only a dangerous situation, but actual charges levied against the guardian including neglect, endangerment or abuse charges.
For more information about the Watauga Humane Society, visit www.wataugahumane.org or call (828) 6264-7865. The Boone Police Department can be reached at (828) 268-6900, and Watauga Animal Control can be called at (828) 262-1672.