Pet Tales: As summer days heat up, keep eye on dogs in cars

The dog days of summer can be hard on dogs, especially if you leave them in a hot car or a hot yard where they don't have access to shade or fresh water. Dogs can't sweat like people can, so they are more prone to heatstroke than we are.

What will it cost you to get veterinary treatment for a dog with heatstroke? The average is $1,168, according to Petplan pet insurance's claims data. The company's news release says some vet bills can be $4,300 or higher.

Every year, dogs and young children die when left too long in cars. So here's my annual column telling everyone: Don't do that!

When the outside temperature is 71 degrees, the temperature inside a car rockets to more than 116 degrees after an hour in the sun, according to a study done by Stanford University researchers. "Cracking" the windows open a few inches makes virtually no difference, they said.

I did an unscientific test of that research on a much hotter day, and the temperature inside my car climbed to 140 degrees in 30 minutes.

I recently raised the issue on my Facebook page and sparked a very passionate debate. Many people said they would call the police if they saw a dog in a car on a hot day. A few said they would break the window to get the dog out. A few said "don't mess with my dogs" when they're in the car.

One guy said he would break the window, remove the dog "and that owner would never see that dog again." That's theft, that's a crime, and I don't condone dog thefts under any circumstances. If you feel that strongly, call 911 and see if the local police would charge the dog owner with animal cruelty. I hasten to add that this guy is no friend of mine. I saw his post on someone's else page, where a lot of people liked his comment.

I once saw a group of people standing around a car, discussing who had a tire iron or hammer to break into the car. In the back seat was a plastic dog crate. They thought a dog needed to be rescued from the crate and the car.

I joined the discussion because it was my car. I was so happy I got there before they broke the window because Pablo, our cocker spaniel, wasn't in the crate. I also pointed out that it was late March, the sky was gray and temperatures were in the low 50s -- neither too hot nor too cold to leave a dog in a car for a brief period of time.

One lady was completely unapologetic, suggesting it is always cruel to put a dog "in a cage" in the back seat of a car. She didn't buy my explanation that it's dangerous to ride with "loose" dogs in a car. They can be killed in an accident. They can be killed by air bags that open up even in low-speed fender benders.

Here's where the Facebook discussion became passionate to the point of nastiness: The owner of a search and rescue dog pointed out that working dogs, including police K-9 dogs, spend many hours in cars on a regular basis. They are driven to training classes and to actual searches. Sometimes those dogs are left in cars while their handlers are eating. Those handlers take a lot of precautions and have some tips.

Their well-trained dogs will sit in the car or in crates with the windows all the way down to allow air to circulate. Don't mess with those dogs or remove them from the car. Savvy dog handlers like cars with sun roofs because they keep the car cooler, and the dogs won't get out that way. They also have shiny silver blankets that drape over the car and deflect the heat. Their dogs are valuable, and they love them, and they would not leave them in too-hot cars for any length of time.

They worry about well-meaning people who threaten to break into cars and steal dogs. So don't steal any dogs. Don't intervene if a dog isn't in trouble. You can stand there and watch the dog in the car (I've done this) to make sure they're OK. Call the police if the dog is panting too hard or, heaven forbid, lying unconscious in the heat.

Free adoptions

Ginny Merchant is a longtime volunteer at the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center. She walks dogs at the Larimer shelter, and she fosters some of them in her home.

She's celebrating her birthday on Thursday by underwriting adoption fees for all dogs age 6 and older that are adopted on that day, starting at noon. She's doing this because she thinks senior dogs are often "passed over" by people looking for puppies and younger dogs.

Dog food drive

Donations of canned and dry dog food will be collected at the Mall at Robinson from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday and June 30. Sponsors of the collection include Eyetique, the shopping center and the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team.

The food can be left at a drive-through set up in the mall's food court parking lot, near Houlihan's, 100 Robinson Centre Drive, 15205.

The involvement of that last nonprofit organization gives me the chance to use the phrase "when dog food flies." The volunteer pilots will fly the food to needy shelters in the Tri-State area and fly back with homeless pets that will go to new homes or rescue groups. The nonprofit works with Pilots N Paws.

Bunny hop

The annual Hoppy Hour to benefit Rabbit Wranglers and help abused, neglected and abandoned rabbits will be 4 to 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Animal Nature store, 7610 Forbes Ave., Regent Square (15221).

A $15 entrance fee includes two drinks. RSVP to Mel Stephan, or call 412-723-2194.

Rabbit Wranglers mission is to help abused, neglected and abandoned rabbits and educate the public to improve the lives of domestic rabbits. Part of the education includes this: People who are tired of their Easter bunnies should not set them free in urban, suburban or rural yards and woods, where they will quickly die or be killed. Also pet rabbits should live in the house, not in outdoor hutches or cages.

Pet expo

Admission and parking are free at the Steel City Pet Expo from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m next Saturday at the Monroeville Convention Center. Pets are welcome but must be leashed and have proof of vaccination.

The event includes many vendors and activities, including a 5 p.m. pet costume contest. Fans can meet Shorty Rossi and his dog, Hercules, from the Animal Planet television show "Pit Boss." Information: or

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.