LEWISTON, Maine — The call came in to the Lewiston Police Department on Wednesday afternoon. Someone had left a dog in a parked vehicle with the windows rolled up.
With the summer heat, the caller was concerned for the dog’s safety.
Cpl. Kevin Cramp responded.
He ran the license plate to identify the owner, and went into a store near where the car was parked. The problem was solved quickly, he said, when within a few minutes, the dog’s owner came out of the store.
That kind of call is becoming more frequent, police say. People are quick to notice a dog left in a parked car — and report the incident to police.
“There’s a change in society with standards,” Deputy Chief James Minkowsky said Friday. “People view it as abuse now, where maybe they wouldn’t have as much before.”
Veterinarians recommend owners leave their dogs home when running errands in the hot, humid weather. Leaving them in a parked car, even for a short time with the windows down slightly, is dangerous.
Police respond when people call to a report a dog in a parked car. The complaint is more prevalent in mall areas, they said.
“We assess the situation, try to make contact with the owner and educate people,” Minkowsky said. Most dog owners are well intended.
“They think they’re going to run into a store for five minutes,” he said. “Five minutes can turn into 25 minutes. Meanwhile, the animal is suffering.”
Police aren’t looking to summon dog owners. Most of the time, people are not acting with criminal intent, Minkowsky said. But police do have that ability, and do summon dog owners in extreme cases. The offense would be animal cruelty, a Class D crime.
In Auburn, police Lt. Tony Harrington said his department receives reports of dogs left in cars whenever it is very hot or very cold. Often, he said, the dog owners are gone when police arrive. Occasionally, they’ll find that a dog was left inside a car but with the air conditioner left running.
Whenever possible, Harrington said, the officer will speak to the dog owner about pet safety.
By law, Animal Control Officer Wendell Strout was called to a couple reports of dogs left in cars in Auburn on Friday. There was one in Lewiston.
“We see more in Auburn because of the malls,” Strout said.
In Auburn on Friday, Strout found a dog in a car, but the engine had been left running and the air conditioning was on.
“That’s fine,” Strout said, “unless you have engine trouble.”
Most dog owners are responsible, Strout says. They won’t intentionally leave their pets in dangerous situations.
“If it’s in the Walmart parking lot in baking heat and the windows are cranked up,” Strout said, “that’s an issue.”
Over the years, he has cited a few people for leaving their dogs in hot cars. He has also seen a pair of dogs perish because of it.
“It’s an ugly death,” Strout said. “It’s something you don’t want to see.”
Dr. Michelle Maloney, a veterinarian, said leaving a dog in a parked car, especially when it’s hot and humid, is downright dangerous.
“The temperature inside the car rises really rapidly,” said Maloney, who operates The Pets Mobile Vet practice. “Even with the windows cracked down, it can get up to 40 degrees higher than outside in 10 or 15 minutes.”
Dogs keep themselves cool by drooling, similar to how humans sweat. But on humid days, the air doesn’t allow more moisture to evaporate and dogs can’t cool down, she said.
If dogs get too hot, their blood vessels dilate, trying to cool the blood system, the veterinarian said. Their blood pressure rises. Being overheated can impact all their internal organs.
“The heart has a hard time because they’re panting so badly as the body tries to cool itself,” she said. When a dog’s body temperature is too high, it can suffer damage to the kidneys, the liver and the gastrointestinal tract, Maloney said. “They can die.”
Lt. Cramp, who handles a Lewiston police dog named Chico, said that in the police car, Chico has air conditioning “and always a bowl of water.”
At home, Chico doesn’t ride in the car when it’s hot, Cramp said.
Maloney approves. She recommends dog owners not take their dogs on errands in this weather.
“It’s so hot, it’s not safe to run into a store,” she said. “Cracking the window doesn’t help much.”
Some owners leave the car running with the air conditioning going. Maloney doesn’t approve. The dogs could step on the door lock “and lock the door on you. Now the animal’s inside with the car running. That’s not good.”
Many dogs love to ride in cars, Maloney’s two dogs included. On Friday, she was planning to go to the lake — but she left her dogs at home because she had to stop at several stores on the way.
“They’re going to be bummed,” she said.