Dear Brilliant Pet Travel Guru Babes:
I do a lot of traveling for work, and I often bring my dog, Petey, and my ferret, Mr. Slinky. One day, I left the A/C on in the car when I ran into a convenience store to get a drink. When I came back out a minute later the car wasn’t running. We were fortunate it was only a minute, but are there things I can do to make sure that my pets are safe in the car on these trips?
Cam from Wichita, KS
Dr. Sip: In an ideal world, you wouldn’t leave your pet in a car for so many reasons. We talked about dogs in hot cars recently, but the advice applies to all pets. If you absolutely HAD to leave Mr. Slinky and Petey in the car for some reason (we’re not talking about an errand that really could wait), you could leave the A/C on with the engine running. If you do this, make sure that the A/C is actually working. If the fan is blowing but the engine isn’t actually on...well, fans of Car Talk know that the car would be blowing hot air.
Melissa: I decided to rope in an expert on this one. I reached out to K9 Patrolman Robert Swartz and K9 Blitz of the Taunton Police Department. Blitz was pretty quiet on the matter, since he’s a dog and all. Lucky for me, Officer Swartz had a lot to say on this subject since he sometimes has to leave his partner in a car...a car that is really tricked out and equipped for “just a minute” situations. I found our correspondence really eye opening.
Melissa: I was amazed to see how much work goes into keeping the patrol car cool and comfortable for K9 Blitz. It takes thousands of dollars to equip the back seat with cages, water dispensers, temperature sensors, fans, and alarms in case the temperature skyrockets. The system has a remote that pops the back door open in case of police emergency, and other safety precautions.
Sip: That’s a lot of precautionary steps and expense! Imagine doing this to a Honda CR-V?
Melissa: I know! This was perhaps the most eye-opening part of my correspondence with Officer Swartz:
“I want to stress that these systems are a back-up to officer vigilance. The best protection we provide for our K9 partners is to always monitor the car ourselves. These systems are designed to alert us and anyone in the area should the temperature reach a level that is hazardous to the dog, or if the engine fails. But, they are electrical systems that could fail as easy as the air conditioning in the car itself.”
Sip: How do departments afford these systems?
Melissa: Nonprofit organizations, like Massachusetts Vest A Dog, help fund these Hot-N-Pop systems and other K9 related safety gear for dogs like Blitz. Not every department has the funding to get this technology, but thanks to Vest-A-Dog, more officers can have the peace of mind that their K9 partner can be as safe as possible in a job that is risky-on-the-daily.
Sip: What are all the bells and whistles?
Melissa: According to Officer Swartz:
“This system will automatically open the windows, activate a high powered window mounted fan, sound the siren, activate the blue lights and page me should the car stall or the interior vehicle temperature reach a dangerous level. I am looking forward to having the more current system installed in the car and am very grateful to Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog for their generosity. But to repeat myself, I will never rely solely on this system to protect my dog. This system will be in addition to my vigilance of constantly checking the interior temperature of the vehicle.”
Dr. Sip: Can you imagine a civilian with this system? Parked in a Target parking lot, the engine fails. Cam’s Toyota Camry automatically opens the doors and...the ferret and Maltese run away. At least Blitz would run to his handler. Training is as important as a tricked out ride.
[Editorial Aside: Always train your ferret.]
Melissa: These systems are currently only for dogs like Blitz, and I personally think it’s a good thing. I’m starting to think abstaining from keeping pets in cars when left alone is the only solution.
Dr. Sip: Officer Swartz said he’s looking forward to the new system, but what is he using currently and what other steps are in place to ensure Blitz’s safety?
Melissa: There are hoses that attach to the front air conditioning vents that feed cold air directly to Blitz in the back seat. There are fans mounted to the cage that divide the front to the back and push cooler air into the dog's area. Each spring the city mechanic checks the air conditioning system in the vehicle and recharges it as needed.
Lastly, and this is up your alley, Dr. Sip: All canine officers receive specialized training in canine heat exhaustion and heat stroke, including identifying signs, symptoms and treatment.
Dr. Sip: I perked up at “heat exhaustion and heat stroke”. Perhaps that’s our next blog?
Melissa: Perhaps it is! Or if you readers would rather hear about something else, send us a question!
Special thanks this week goes out to K9 Blitz and his handler, Patrolman Swartz of the Taunton Police Department in Taunton, Massachusetts. Additional special thanks goes out to all of the organizations, like Vest-A-Dog, that make it their mission to keep our officers safe in the line of duty. Visit MaVestADog to learn more about this program.
K9 Blitz can be found on Twitter: @TauntonPDK9
Unless you can afford the training Blitz goes through, the systems to keep him safe, and are an active K9 handler, your dog shouldn’t be left in a car alone. K9 Blitz said so.