MOKENA – Barbara Finkelstein of Mokena has seen dogs suffering in vehicles and understands the danger. It accidentally happened to her dog and to a dog she rescued from a parking lot last summer. Both dogs were fine, she said.
So when Finkelstein – a volunteer with Crossroads Shih Tzu Rescue in New Lenox (www.crossroadsrescue.org) – saw the Petplan pet insurance "Drive to Bark" petition on Facebook, she immediately signed it.
The petition's goal is to enact a law prohibiting owners from leaving animals unattended and confined in vehicles, said Ernie Ward, a veterinarian, author, lecturer, member of Petplan's veterinary advisory board and part of the team that initiated the petition.
Fifteen states including Illinois already have laws in place, but the goal is to have a law in place that covers all 50 states, Ward said. If a petition has enough support, White House staff will review it, according to petitions.whitehouse.gov/how-why/introduction.
To make that happen, "Driven to Bark" needs 100,000 signatures in 30 days, Ward said. According to the online petition, more than 12,000 people had signed it as of Saturday. The deadline for signing the petition is Sept. 2, Ward said.
Finkelstein said people don't always realize how quickly a vehicle's interior will heat up. They may think, "Oh, I can just run in really fast and everything will be fine," but that's not the case. In less than half an hour, the interior temperature of a car rises by 30 degrees, she said.
"If it's a 90-degree day and you turn off the engine and the air and not open the windows, how long could you sit there?" Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein clearly recalls the dog she saw trapped inside a locked car in a parking lot. The dog had crawled behind the back seat and was panting hard. She could not locate its owner, so she called police to free the dog and cool it down with a hose. Situations like this one, Finkelstein said, mean legislation is needed.
"Asking people to please not put their dogs in their cars in the summer and leave them is apparently not working as well as everyone had hoped," Finkelstein said. "This [a law] will get structure in place."
Granted, not everyone who leaves a dog in a car is thoughtless or uncaring, Finkelstein said. Sometimes pet owners may believe they are taking proper precautions and still wind up with a problem, as Finkelstein herself discovered.
Coming home from the vet on a 73-degree day with one of her dogs in tow, Finkelstein stopped at a drugstore to fill a prescription. She could not take the dog inside with her, so she took every precaution, she said. She parked in the shade and cracked open the windows.
Nine minutes later, Finkelstein returned to a distressed, panting, overheated dog. It's not that Finkelstein doesn't understand dogs or their needs. She has an 8-year-old Chihuahua mix named Raider, a 6-year-old Shih Tzu named Cha Cha and her current foster, 5-year-old Bridget.
But like many pet owners, Finkelstein had accidentally underestimated the threshold for those needs. That's why Ward produced the "How Hot Does it Get in a Car" video – which has nearly 2 million views on YouTube – and why Petplan sought his help in writing this petition, Ward said.
"This is a serious issue," Ward said. "Untold numbers of dogs die each year because there aren't any laws to cover it. When instances occur, it's an owner accident – end of story."
Within 30 minutes on a 90-degree day, the interior of a vehicle reaches 117 degrees, which is life-threatening, Ward said. On a 70-degree day, that same interior reaches 106 degrees in that same amount of time, he added.
"Even if the dog does not die, there's internal damage, especially to the kidneys – one of the organs most susceptible to damage from heat," Ward said. "Even under the best conditions – just running into the store and coming back – there can be irreversible damage."
Ward said he doesn't want to dissuade anyone from the pleasure of a nice car ride with their dogs, as Ward also enjoys it. He has two rescue mutts – Sandy, 11 and Harry, 3. He just wants to protect vulnerable pets from horrific deaths caused by lack of common sense.
"If people see a child or an animal that's left unattended in a car," Ward said, "they need to contact the authorities."
Former dog owner Tim Howe of Manhattan said he also learned about "Driven to Bark" on Facebook, signed it and shared it with friends involved in animal rescue. Howe feels the same way about this petition as he does about leash laws.
"Hopefully," Howe said, "this will remind people that the laws are there to protect the animals."
For more information and how to get involved:
• "Driven to Bark" – www.gopetplan.com/driven-to-bark
• Dr. Ernie Ward "How Hot Does it Get in a Hot Car" video – www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbOcCQ-y3OY
• Dr Ernie Ward – www.drernieward.com
• To read Illinois law – See Section 7.1 at www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1717&ChapterID=41