Ann Diffley checked her smart phone for the temperature Tuesday at about 5:30 p.m. It read 89 degrees, and that was outside.
She thought the temperature inside the car parked at Lowe’s on Greenwich Avenue could be higher, even though it was partially shaded by a tree. There was no way of knowing without opening the car door.
In the car’s front seat was a dog, a boxer. It looked alert and healthy. The windows were open about three inches for some air circulation, but she worried.
She knew temperatures in parked cars can rise abruptly and, although the pet’s owner planned to be in and out of a store in minutes, the animal could face heat exhaustion. She also knew Warwick ordinances forbid people from leaving animals in cars unattended. She called police but continued to monitor the dog, just in case.
In this situation, the dog’s owner left before police arrived, but Dennis Tabella, of Defenders of Animals, reminded pet owners to pay extra attention during heat waves when he heard of the incident yesterday.
“Dog temperatures are higher than humans,” he said, pointing out dogs, as well as cats, can be especially susceptible to heat.
“I know dogs love to go for rides,” he said, “but when the heat is up, they [pet owners] have to be careful.”
“You can leave the windows open and put on the air conditioner, but they just can’t handle the heat,” he continued.
It was Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon who introduced the legislation prohibiting leaving pets unattended in motor vehicles. Solomon worked with Tabella in drafting the ordinance and lobbied for its passage.
Tabella said there are similar ordinances in Cranston, Providence and East Providence.
“We’re looking to do it in every city,” said Tabella. “We’re looking for state legislation.”
He acknowledged that wouldn’t happen this year, as the General Assembly winds down. Next year, he said, former Senator John Tassoni Jr. will be working with Defenders of Animals to pass a state law. Tassoni was behind legislation that makes it an offense to tie up a dog 24/7 without food, water and shelter.
“I think people have to be very cognizant of putting animals in their car,” Tassoni said when reached for a telephone interview. Even when driving with a pet, he said it is important that they have water.
“It’s like leaving a child in a car with this heat; you wouldn’t do that,” he said.
He said small dogs can be especially susceptible to heat. Because he left the Senate less than a year ago, he won’t be able to lobby until the next General Assembly sits. Next year, he will be working with Defenders of Animals.
“Some of these laws need to be tightened up. Dogs are being tied up in blazing heat,” he said.
Tabella suggested pet owners be attentive and ensure their pets stay cool. He did not recommend spraying down a dog that seemed to be suffering from heat; that could be a sudden shock.
Since the first of the year, police have issued five citations for leaving pets in cars unattended. The citations require a mandatory appearance in municipal court.