It's that time of year again, folks - the time of year when social media is inundated with images like this:
Images like this spur people to proudly announce that they'll break windows, steal dogs, vandalize property, etc. if they see a dog in a vehicle on a hot day. I used to be one of those people. While it's a good message and people mean well by it, it's not entirely accurate in every situation.
Over the years, I've realized that it's not always possible to leave a dog at home, or bring a dog inside with you on a hot day. In a perfect world, no dog would ever have to be in a car on a hot day... but in reality, there are times it just can't be avoided.
Let me tell you about the dog show last weekend. When I arrived at the fairgrounds at 6am (with three dogs in tow) it was already 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the heat, the sun wasn't completely up yet so the temperature in the car didn't rise above 75 degrees or so while I set up the ex-pens. I had run the air conditioning on the way to the show, so the air inside my vehicle stayed cool for quite some time.
From 6am until about noon, the dogs were out in their ex-pens. They had water and a sun-reflecting shade screen covering their pens, so despite it being 95 degrees they didn't even start panting until 11:30am. At noon, we put the dogs back in the vehicle and started the air conditioning. I put up a reflective sun screen in my windshield and re-positioned the sun shade to reflect the remaining sunlight. For nearly six hours, I had four dogs in my vehicle on a 95-100 degree day. We checked on them often to make sure the air conditioning was still functioning, but I knew that there would be a risk of having my windows broken by some misguided soul who would assume the dogs were "in distress."
We did this again when we went out to dinner, and again for much of the next day. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, the temperature had dropped to around 80-85 degrees. There was a storm rolling in, so there was a decent breeze and the sun was behind clouds most of the time. When we went to lunch that day, we elected to not run the air conditioning at all. Here was our solution:
1. parked in the shade, under a large tree
2. rolled down the front windows about 5"
3. popped the back windows
4. popped the rear sunroof
5. put up the reflective sun screen in the windshield
6. filled the water buckets with water
7. put large battery-operated fans on each of the crates
The dogs were fine for over an hour... in a mostly closed vehicle, on an 85 degree day. I should also note that the dogs in the vehicle are well-conditioned, in their prime, and accustomed to the summer heat. When we got back to the car after lunch, they weren't even panting. They were fast asleep, and not "in distress" in any way.
Afterwards, we went on a multiple-mile, multiple-hour hike over semi-rough terrain. The dogs were fine. None of them developed heat stroke. None of them died, or even got close to dying.
There are other dog activities (such as protection sports) where crating in a vehicle during the day is commonplace and expected. Thousands of us make it work every day. Being contained in a vehicle on a hot day is not necessarily a death sentence, no matter how much some people like to think it is. The ingredients for success are as follows:
1. Shade. If you can't park in it, make your own. If you can park in the shade, still consider making your own. Sun-reflecting window shades and vehicle-covering screens can keep a vehicle nice and cool.
2. Ventilation. Do everything you can to maximize air flow. Open windows as far as you can, and use fans if you can't get enough ventilation from windows alone. Invest in a ventlock.
3. Hydration. Make sure your dog has access to water. Pails work better than stand-alone bowls because they're harder to spill.
4. Supervision. Check on your dog often. Even if you have the air condition running, be sure to check your vehicle to make sure cold air is still coming out of the vents and that your car is still running.
5. Conditioning. We're talking about the condition of your dog in this case. Make sure your dog is in good condition and is used to higher temperatures. Sick and/or elderly dogs (or very young puppies) cannot handle the heat as well as athletic, well-conditioned, healthy adult dogs.
Hot cars can be (and often are) deadly. However, don't assume that all situations call for breaking windows and "rescuing" the dog inside. Use good judgement, and use your brain before you use a brick.