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Keep your pet passengers safe and cool this summer

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 16, 2016

 Pets should be properly harnessed or secured in the back seat with equipment that pet stores sell.

Pets should be properly harnessed or secured in the back seat with equipment that pet stores sell.

Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

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Dogs and cats cannot drive vehicles, so it is up to their owners to look out for pet passengers’ safety.

Although animal welfare groups have long warned pet owners against leaving animals inside hot cars during the warmer months, the problem persists, Michigan Humane Society spokesman Ryan McTigue said.

“We do still occasionally get calls of people leaving their animals in their cars,” he said. “Hopefully, people are getting more aware that there are some major issues with doing that.”

McTigue said drivers on errands should do their best to leave animals at home. Even if a parked vehicle’s windows are cracked open when it is 85 degrees outside, the interior can reach over 100 degrees within minutes, he said. Hot temperatures make dogs’ and cats’ way of cooling themselves down — panting — ineffective and can cause them to dangerously overheat, he said. 

“When the air they breathe is overheated, the evaporation that occurs while panting is usually insufficient,” he said. “It’s very dangerous.”

According to Michigan State Police spokeswoman Sierra Medrano, the state does not have a statute that particularly pertains to pets left in hot cars, but it does have an animal cruelty statute under MCL 750.50.  

But she said a bill was introduced May 3 in the Legislature, Senate Bill 930, that would amend the law to specifically make it unlawful for an animal owner or keeper to leave or confine an animal alone in an unattended motor vehicle “under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of the animal,” including heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation, food or water. 

Medrano also addressed the law in the situation in which a witness sees a pet trapped in a hot car.

“Additionally, there is no Michigan statute that specifically allows an individual to use force on a window to give a pet air,” she said. “Whether such conduct is permissible would depend on the totality of the circumstances and would necessarily have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.” 

When it comes to transporting pets in a vehicle, McTigue said they should be properly harnessed or secured in the back seat with equipment that pet stores sell.

“They do make special harness seat belts for larger dogs,” he said. “It keeps them protected in the event of a crash. It keeps them from jumping out.”

Smaller dogs should be kept in a crate or carrier that is secured with a seat belt, he explained. He added that securing a pet also makes the situation safer for the driver. 

“It keeps you safe in a car,” he said. “They’re not jumping over you, and you can concentrate on the road when you’re driving.”

McTigue said pets should never ride in the front due to the possibility of airbags hurting them. And owners shouldn’t let pets peer their heads out the window while the car is in motion due to the risk of them exiting or being hit in the face with debris or bugs. 

“You just want to avoid any possible injury you can,” McTigue said.

Learn more about the Michigan Humane Society by visiting www.michiganhumane.org or by calling (248) 283-1000.

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