With temperatures set to soar over 40C, RSPCA South Australia is warning that too many dog owners are continuing to put their animals’ lives at risk by leaving them unattended in parked cars. In the majority of cases reported to RSPCA South Australia in the past two months, the owners had left the dogs while they went shopping. In other reports, owners were attending gym classes, stopping at pubs for a drink, attending medical appointments and visiting people in hospital.
In one incident on September 17, the dog’s owner had left his animal inside the cabin of a ute parked in the open at TAFE SA in Clovelly Park, with both windows slightly open.
The inspector who attended the report recorded the temperature both outside and inside the cabin. While it was just 20C outside, inside the ute’s cabin it was 48C. Remember – this was only just the start of Spring.
RSPCA South Australia Chief Inspector Andrea Lewis says the case illustrates how, even on mild days with windows down, animals left in cars are at severe risk
“For dogs, cars too easily become coffins, and it is extremely concerning to us that no matter how much we raise the alarm about this, some people still seem to think it is OK to take their dog with them even though they know they will be leaving the dog unattended inside the car at some stage,” Ms Lewis said.
“Fortunately, the dog in this case was unharmed, but we’ve had animals die or suffer lifelong consequences of heat-stress – it’s just never worth the risk.”
In another incident, in mid-October, a member of the public noticed a large dog lying on its side inside a vehicle parked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woodville. He was able to reach through a partially open window to save the dog, who became responsive after being moved into an air-conditioned space. The dog’s owner did not return to the vehicle for another 45 minutes.
According to Ms Lewis, there is little doubt the dog would have been dead by the time the owner returned had it not been for the actions of its rescuer.
“To return to your vehicle and find your animal dead would be horrific,” Ms Lewis said.
“Please – leave them home, inside with the air-conditioner on when it’s this hot, but at the very least they must have shade available all day and access to multiple sources of clean, fresh water in containers that cannot be easily tipped over.”
In September, the Queensland Government announced it would amend laws to make it illegal to leave an animal in a car in temperatures that could cause it harm. The move follows a horror year in which RSPCA Queensland attended 1321 cases of dogs locked in hot cars – about 150 more cases than the previous year.
Up to the end of November, South Australia had received 241 reports. Last year a total of 278 reports came in, and 302 reports in 2017. With such a high number of reports still coming in, RSPCA South Australia would welcome similar laws to those in Queensland being introduced here.
“Anything that makes it crystal clear that it’s unacceptable to leave animals unattended in cars is something we would support,” Ms Lewis said.
“Unfortunately, some people do not seem to get it – perhaps the threat of hefty penalties is the only thing that will drive the message home.”
Some tragic cases have resulted in prosecution, including one case in 2017 in which two dogs were left inside a car while their owner visited a relative in hospital. One dog died but the other – Zoe – miraculously survived.
Anyone found guilty of an offence of this type faces up to four years imprisonment or a $50,000 fine, as well as a prohibition order to own animals in the future.
While most reports relate to dogs in cars, RSPCA South Australia received a report in October about a baby goat left in a Winnebago in a carpark in Oaklands Park, and last month a motorist reported a truck loaded with chickens that had broken down on Portrush Road in Glen Osmond, with the temperature over 30C at the time. (National welfare laws govern livestock transport – www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/land-transport.)
Dogs transported on the back of utes also suffer in hot weather as ute trays become hotplates.
RSPCA advises against transporting dogs on the back of utes, not only because of exposure to weather but also the risk of injury.