In a comment in the Reformer June 23 article on dogs left in hot cars, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark revealed the very essence of a confused and disturbing dilemma facing an increasingly concerned public when they see a dog trapped in a hot car; that is, what is the best thing to do? Sheriff Clark is quoted as saying "We would recommend that they call because we can try and track down the owner then we can take measures to get the dog out of the car. I would advocate that people do not break windows in someone else's car even though they're doing it for the well-being of an animal. They do not have the authority to break someone else's property."
Despite Clark's concerns, we are also advised by animal protection organizations that "minutes matter" for a dog left in a hot car. Trying to track down car owners (whatever that itself might entail) before rescuing the dog could take five or 20 or 60 minutes depending on the situation and the priorities and knowledge of any given responding officer; time that can prove fatal for a dog who has been left in a hot car for an unknown amount of time already.
Yet, if we examine informational fliers distributed by most animal "protection" organizations themselves, we see why public confusion on this issue continues as they, too, put "property" concerns first (ironically, dogs are also legally recognized as the private "property" of their "owners"). The most common advice recommended when finding a dog in a hot car (whether parked in a vast parking lot or on a city street) is to: Wait for the car owner to return; begin a search for the car owner; engage retailers to also begin searching; then call 911; and wait for an officer to arrive. The "minutes" that "matter" most for the health, safety, and the very life of the dog are ignored in this vague and unaccounted for advice. Imagine finding a 30-year-old man in a business suit holding a briefcase sitting on a sidewalk in front of a bank. He's panting and looks anxious. He cannot respond to the question,"Are you OK?" It is a standard response in the U.S. to call 911. We take action to prevent further harm and protect life.
When a person enters the emergency room complaining of jaw pain or dizziness, one of the first standard protocols is to start an intravenous line so that access to the central circulatory system is available for administration of lifesaving fluids, if needed. We don't wait to first determine if it's a toothache or an ear infection vs. a heart attack or a stroke. We have established a standard to prevent further harm and protect life. This standard is accepted by in every hospital emergency room, in every town and city, in every state across the U.S. Experts have established this to prevent potential harm.
Yet, a dog trapped in a hot car is also, too often, an emergency situation where life is at stake, particularly if we believe that "minutes matter" and biology, veterinary science, and research on thermodynamics inside parked cars hold any relevance. And we continue to accept inconsistent advice, responses, and practices by individual citizens and rescue personnel across towns, states and, even countries? We need authoritative statements based on the expert knowledge that exists from, for example; the American Veterinary Medical Association, that serve as the basis for responsible and consistent policy making, as well as promoting standardized timely rescue interventions by first responders on the scene including; private citizens, retail personnel, and police and animal control officers.
Barry L. Adams lives in Brattleboro.