On sweltering summer days like today, people who leave their dogs outside in the heat could end up in hot water themselves.
That's the message Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey wants dog owners to hear, especially with temperatures in the 80s and 90s this week.
A person who leaves his or her dog outside in the hot weather -- or who leaves a dog alone inside a car -- could be charged with a summary offense of cruelty to animals, a charge that yields a maximum fine of up to $750 or 90 days in jail.
Yet Officer Luffey, who has specialized in animal cruelty cases for the past 15 years, said many people aren't heeding the warning. This year, she has seen a spike of calls about dogs in unsafe hot weather situations -- an increase she attributed to both the high temperatures and a boost in the number of police officers and neighbors reporting incidents.
Just this past week, nine dogs were taken from their owners in Larimer because they had been left in the heat in unsafe conditions. And today, Officer Luffey was responding to another report of a dog left outside in a yard in the Hill District that appeared to be ill.
These are hot days for humans, she said, but they are even hotter for animals.
"Imagine wearing a fur coat in the heat, and you will get an idea of what animals are experiencing in the hot sun," she said.
At Animal Friends, an animal resource center in Ohio Township, volunteers are taking the dogs on shorter walks due to the heat.
It only takes a few minutes for a dog to overheat, said Jolene Miklas, the center's communications director. Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs can include heavy panting, increased heart rate, glassy eyes, staggering walk, vomiting and diarrhea.
Dogs should be kept cool, be given plenty of water, and dog owners should avoid taking their dogs on walks longer than 10 minutes, she said.
"Use your judgment. If it's too hot for you and you don't want to be outside, it's too hot for your dog, too," Ms. Miklas said.
With temperatures in the high 80s, it was definitely too hot today for Ernie Saunier of Mount Washington to spend much time outside. And that was just fine for his dog, a mixed breed named Precious.
"She wants to be inside," he said. "She knows where it's cold. She's smart."