Cool high-country Colorado mornings with hot afternoons may send people to shade, fans or wardrobe changes, but for canines, that same heat can be dangerous without precautions taken by owners.
“People are surprised with how hot it is. When tourists come into town, it’s not as hot as the Front Range, but still it’s too hot to leave a dog in the car,” said Dawn Smith, animal control officer in Routt County since 2005. “It’s usually changing conditions that sneak up on people.”
Smith said humans can use their own comfort as a guide. Can a dog owner sit comfortably in the car for 15 minutes without air conditioning, or sit on hot metal in the back of a pickup or walk on the asphalt barefoot? If that answer is no, then neither should the dog.
The City of Steamboat Springs has existing ordinances that prohibit dogs or cats from being left unattended inside vehicles or in the uncovered bed of a truck when the outside temperature is 70 degrees or hotter. That is because studies show the temperature in a vehicle may increase by 20 degrees within 10 minutes.
“People are still leaving dogs in the cars when it’s in the 80s, and it’s not okay,” said Steamboat Springs Animal Control Officer Jennifer Good.
“If you think it’s going to get over 70 degrees, and you don’t have to have your dog with you, don’t,” Smith said.
One exception allows animals to remain in a vehicle if “in the opinion of the officer, adequate ventilation and water are provided,” according to the municipal code.
According to Rover.com, some tips to keep dogs cool on hot summer days include offering a wet towel to lay on, add ice cubes to water dishes, offer access to a wading pool with cool shallow water, bring water and a collapsible dish on walks, take walks or play time in early mornings or evenings, and offer access to cool shade with a tarp or screen.
Dogs are commonly reported left in vehicles when it is above 70 degrees in parking areas outside local grocery stores, the post office, downtown restaurant and shopping areas, and at Old Town Hot Springs, Good said. Several times dogs have been found crawling on top of each other in the back of pickup beds trying to avoid the hot metal, she said.
Good said if officers are dispatched to this type of call, they check temperatures, evaluate conditions, and if a dog or cat is found to be in distress, officers can remove the animal and impose it at the Routt County Humane Society or will take it to a veterinarian if needed. Owners are responsible for all fees when claiming pets.
Even a quick trip into the store with a dog waiting in the car with the windows rolled down may not be safe, as that shopping trip may take longer than expected and risk a dog’s safety.
“The bigger thing for us it’s all about the animals’ health and safety besides the ordinance and violations,” Good said. “Dogs don’t sweat like humans do. In a hot car, they can’t get away from the heat even with cracked windows. Parking in the shade helps, but it does not keep the dog cool.”
Smith said the first violation is considered misdemeanor animal cruelty, and the owner is issued a summons to appear in court in front of a judge. If that first charge results in a misdemeanor conviction, the second time would be a felony animal cruelty charge. However, animal cruelty charges rarely go that far.
“Ninety percent of the time, what’s needed is education, no punitive damages,” Smith said. “Most people, when it comes to their animals, they are not trying to hurt them. They might not know what they need to do.”
Nonprofit PETA tracks the number of pets that died in hot cars or outside in hot weather including 59 animal companion deaths reported in 2021 across the US, with many more unreported.
The Humane Society of the US notes some symptoms of pet heatstroke include heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, deep red or purple tongue and seizure,
Dogs that are especially at risk of suffering from heatstroke include puppies, senior dogs, dogs doing strenuous exercise, or dogs with short muzzles, thick coats, overweight, out-of-shape or with underlying medical issues.
One Steamboat city ordinance that might surprise dog owners prohibits unattended dogs being secured by any leash, cord or chain on public property. That means local or visiting dog owners going inside stores in town need to use the buddy system for another person to tend to the dog while a partner goes into a store, Good said. The city fine for a tied and unattended dog or for a dog running at large are each $75.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.