The Durham County Sheriff’s Office announced a policy change that could both make it easier for police to rescue distressed dogs and to dissuade pet owners from leaving dogs in hot cars.
The policy change was prompted after an animal advocate visiting Durham, North Carolina’s South Point Mall discovered a 6-month old puppy locked in a hot car in the mall’s parking lot. Jennifer Miller spotted the dog around 2pm on Sunday afternoon. A volunteer with the Humane Society and on the board of a wildlife rehab center, Miller is well versed in the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion.
“He (the dog) was panting. His gums had actually already started to turn white,” she explained to ABC 11. “It looked like he was kind of foaming at the mouth, that really thick saliva. And he was unsteady.”
She immediately contacted mall security and local authorities who sent an animal control officer to the scene. The officer measured temperature inside the parked car through a partially opened window and noted the reading was at 117-degrees. He then mostly sat in his air conditioned van for the next two hours, waiting for the dog’s owner to return.
When the owners returned to their car at approximately 4pm, they were not charged with animal cruelty and were simply told to take the dog to a veterinarian to be checked out.
When Miller posted photos and details of the incident to Facebook, feedback from concerned citizens regarding the lack of action to protect the dog prompted the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to make an immediate policy change:
“The Durham County Sheriff’s Office appreciates and listens to feedback from concerned citizens. As we mentioned in our previous statement, the agency routinely reviews its response to emergency calls to assess whether there’s a need for policy revision.
Effective immediately, the deputies responding to calls for animals left in unattended vehicles will continue to assess whether the pet is in distress and make every attempt to locate the pet’s owner in accordance with North Carolina law. However, Durham County deputies are no longer required to wait for visible signs of distress. Under the revised policy, deputies will document the interior and exterior temperatures of a vehicle at least twice. The deputy will use his or her discretion in determining whether the animal should be removed from the vehicle. If the animal is removed, the deputy will decide whether to return the pet to its owner or pursue criminal charges after taking the animal to the local shelter.”
Often, by the time a dog shows signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, irreparable damage has already been done. The policy change gives officers the right to rescue an animal before it’s too late.