Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Random rescuers come to dog's aid

Despite repeated warnings, pets still left in hot cars

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I suppose you could call this a random act of rescue.

My wife, Athina, and I had just finished a Sunday-afternoon shop at Costco and climbed into our car when she said something she often says.

"I love the heat."

Not for too long, though, not the kind of heat that made us decide not to bring our golden retriever, Tate, with us that day. The forecast high was 23 C and sunny; perfect summer weather for me.

And perfectly dangerous summer weather for turning a parked vehicle from comfortable to cooking in minutes.

I reached for the fan button to pump up the air conditioning, and got ready to pull out. Just then Athina saw something alarming.

There was small dog in the small red Toyota parked next to us.

It was whimpering, panting, and standing up on its hind legs looking through the back window at us, as if to say, "Help."

Everyone knows -- well, obviously not everyone -- how dangerous it is to leave a pet in a car on a warm summer day, let alone on hot summer days such as the ones that prompted Environment Canada to issue a heat advisory for this weekend.

But the little red Toyota was locked and the back window the little dog was pressed up against was only open about 10 centimetres.

What to do?

The first thing we did was call police. The time Athina phoned 911 was recorded on her iPhone as 2:16 p.m.

While she did that, I hurried back inside Costco to pass along the car's licence plate number to have the owner paged and get some water for the overheating dog.

Turns out Costco doesn't have a paging system.

The challenge now was to find a container small enough to fit through that slightly opened window so the little dog could at least get some cooling and hydrating water.

It was the place Costco customers line up to buy hotdogs where I found what I needed.

Bypassing the line I asked for one of their shallow Styrofoam gravy cups, ripped the lip down to a size I thought would get it through the window, and filled it with water.

Back at the car, I was able to get my arm through the window far enough for the little dog to lap it up.

But it was still trapped inside.

Not for much longer, though.

Between the several minutes that had passed since the 911 operator advised Athina that police were being dispatched, and my returning with the water, two young men in a pickup truck pulled into the parking stall on the other side of the car.

They were as concerned as we were and soon one of them had an idea.

One of them, Curtis Biggar, unfastened part of a ratchet he had in the truck, and reached through and unlocked the back door.

Then I reached in and grabbed the little dog. With the dog cradled in my arms, I could feel his little heart pounding, which can be a sign of pending heatstroke.

The sun was hot so I decided to head for the coolness and shade of Costco's front entrance where whoever owned the red Toyota would be exiting.

Inside, I was joined by a couple of Costco employees who had heard about the efforts to help the little dog.

One told me he sees dogs left in vehicles all the time in the summer.

"And children," he said.

Several minutes passed and suddenly Athina was there saying the young woman who owned the dog had returned to the car.

Obviously she hadn't seen me holding the dog.

On the way back to the car, Athina described a dog owner who, predictably, was in denial she had done anything to jeopardize her pet's well-being.

The young woman, who had a five- or six-year-old daughter with her, claimed she had been in Costco for five minutes, which -- based on the timeline that started even before Athina reached 911, was obviously untrue.

The 911 operator had told Athina a small dog left in an overheating car can go into convulsions within 20 minutes. It had been at least 15 minutes since we first spotted the whimpering dog in distress and we didn't know how long it had already been in the car.

The young woman responded by saying the dog always whimpers. And that she took good care of it.

As I handed her dog back and watched the little girl now cradling it in her arms, I made a gentle plea to the now-less-defensive mother.

"Please don't do this again."

"I understand," she responded.

When they learned the dog was out of the car, police turned the case over to the Winnipeg Humane Society for followup. It was one of nine calls the humane society took on pets left alone in cars last weekend. One of close to 200 calls their crews have received this spring and summer, 108 of them in July alone. Although the humane society ended up not responding to this one because, according to a spokeswoman, they were diverted to another emergency.

Anyway, even with fines of close to $300 per animal for first-time offenders, even with police releasing an advisory in June and all the other ones like it over all the years, pet owners still aren't getting the message.

Why not?

Well, other than simple ignorance, this might suggest why not.

It's something the initially defiant young woman who owned the little dog said to Athina.

"You care too much."

Guilty, as charged.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 B1

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