Officials are bracing for increasingly warm weather to accelerate the number of calls about dogs at risk after being left sitting in hot

Officials are bracing for increasingly warm weather to accelerate the number of calls about dogs at risk after being left sitting in hot

Vancouver Island turns up the heat on people leaving pets in hot cars

Dog advocates hoping tougher bylaws, increased awareness will reduce the risk

Powerful new tools designed to protect dogs left in hot cars in Nanaimo have failed to save a single pet or punish a negligent pet owner in the nine months they’ve been in place.

And that is considered a good thing.

Nanaimo bylaw manager Rod Davidson said the entire point of the city’s new bylaw is to protect animals and raise awareness. In the 19 reports made to the city since the new regulations went into force Sept. 1, the dogs were either discovered in safe conditions, or had already departed before enforcement officers arrived.

“It’s more education than anything else. The last thing this city wants is a pet in distress,” he said. “The message we want to get out there is don’t leave your animal in the car by itself.”

Nanaimo’s regulations are part of a growing push by Island communities for giving bylaw and animal control officers increased power to issue fines to owners who leave dogs in distress and take action to rescue animals if necessary.

Under B.C. law, RCMP intervention, or a special constable of the SPCA is needed before action can be taken to rescue the dog. But Nanaimo’s new regulations empower bylaw enforcement officers to respond to complaints, determine if rescue action is necessary and slap offenders with a $500 fine, the heftiest on the Island.

SPCA animal protection and outreach officer Erika Paul said the city is not unique in its bid to improve regulations. The Capital Regional District, Duncan and a majority of municipalities in the Greater Victoria area have all made recent changes aimed at improving the way they can respond to an animal in distress.

However, the key link is getting provincial laws changed so bylaw and animal control officers don’t have to wait for RCMP or the special SPCA constables to arrive to take action. Police may have other priorities and, at the moment, there are just four special SPCA constables for the entire island.

“Where it gets tricky for us, is we are not legally allowed to enter a vehicle. RCMP can, but we can’t,” Comox Valley SPCA manager Emily Priestley said. “So when we attend, we basically just monitor the situation, but if we think the animal is going into distress then we would have to call the RCMP.

“So municipalities where such bylaws are enacted, that’s really helpful, because it (would give) the animal control guy, or the bylaw officer, the ability to go into the car and remove the animal. A lot of the time that involves breaking windows.”

According to Davidson, Nanaimo’s regulations are made more effective by a policy of quick response.

“We don’t want a good Samaritan to take a rock and smash a window,” he said. “We’ve made it a priority  so if they get a call, they respond right away.”

Nanaimo officials determine whether a dog is in distress by measuring the interior temperature with a heat gun. The danger point in an unventilated car is set at 23 degrees. Paul said other communities have written bylaws allowing officers more discretion in deciding when an animal may be in distress.

“Each dog is different; the breed, weight, age — all of these things have to be taken into account,” she said.

Cowichan SPCA manager Sandi Trent is hopeful local and provincial changes are coming soon that can help improve response in her community.

“We’re still bound by the law. Moving up-Island certainly is in the plans.”

With Island weather heating up again, officials are bracing for an uptick in calls. The SPCA recorded 34 across the Island in May, down slightly compared to the amount it received during last year’s extraordinary heat.

“Last year was a big one,” SPCA call centre manager Stephanie Sheffield said. “There has been a lot of news coverage and that helps.”

Trent said her office has recently been averaging two or three calls a day, but none have actually resulted in a dog in distress. That is increasingly common, as awareness of the issue grows.

People see a dog in a car with the windows up and are immediately concerned, even though frequently the dog has not been in the car long or the temperature is within an acceptable range. Paul remembers a report where the car was actually running, with the air conditioner left on keeping the dog comfortable inside.

“People are so passionate about it,” Paul said. “Often when we do come, we spend a lot of time defusing the crowd.”

Officials endorse a “better safe than sorry” approach with an eye on awareness and keeping tempers in check.

“Getting them to page the owner and getting them to return to the vehicle so the animal never gets to be in distress,” Sheffield said.

Davidson is good with the fact that since the new Nanaimo bylaw has been implemented, the city has yet to issue a fine.

“We’ve never had  to, and, once again, we’re not in the business of fines. It’s about education.”

Davidson said no one deliberately puts their pet in a dangerous situation. But circumstances sometimes lead people to make quick decisions they later regret. His advice is simple: if it’s hot, take your pet with you.

“Put your dog on a leash, walk him over and tie him up,” he said. “It’s the lack of air flow that’s the problem. A chihuahua is going to handle it better than a Newf or a Bernese mountain dog.”

He’s said the city is satisfied the new regulations seem to be working on a practical level.

“You know, I’d have to say we are. It allows us that we can respond in a timely fashion,” he said. “What we tried to do is we wanted to have something that protected the animals.”

Vancouver-area MLA Selina Robinson has introduced at private members’ bill in a bid to get the provincial law changed.

Paul hopes the attention placed on the issue works to improve both regulations and public awareness.

“It’s unfortunate the topic is coming up every year. You wonder when it will get to a point where it’s unnecessary.”

— with a file from Terry Farrell

Animals in distress

Vancouver Island animals in hot car reports recorded by the BC SPCA.

May 2016: 34 (200 province-wide)

May 2015: 45 (246 province-wide)

May 2014: 17 (183 province-wide)

May 2013: 15 (118 province-wide)

Source: SPCA

 

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A GoFundMe has been launched in memory of an eight-year-old boy who drowned at a Hotel Zed pool in Victoria on March 24. (Jane Andema/GoFundMe)
GoFundMe started in memory of 8-year-old boy who died at Hotel Zed pool

Child drowned after wandering off to the pool alone

The family of Iris McNeil, shown here with members of her family, has launched a petition to deny parole for the man who murdered McNeil in 1997. (Family photo)
Family fights killer’s release from Metchosin institution

Shortreed serving an indeterminate sentence at William Head Institution

This image shows northbound traffic on Highway 17 looking to turn west onto Keating Cross Road (far right top corner), crossing the southbound lane on Highway 17. A new flyover overpass promises to ease delays and improve safety, but the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is calling for revisions in joining other critics. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce calls for revisions to Central Saanich flyover overpass

Chamber deems current proposal necessary but insufficient in calling for full movement interchange

The Capital Regional Hospital District has approved awarding a tender to QM Environmental for the demolition and hazardous materials disposal of the Oak Bay Lodge. (Black Press Media File)
Winning bidder approved for Oak Bay Lodge demolition

Capital Regional Hospital District board approves $4.266 million budget for project

A driver stopped by Saanich police following a road rage incident on April 15 was found to be impaired, in violation of a license restriction and in a damaged vehicle. They received a 90-day driving prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Driver stopped on Pat Bay Highway after road rage reports fails breathalyzer test: police

Several witnesses reported driver to Saanich police, school officer intercepted

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Lookout Lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A almost hitting school bus

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier John Horgan booked to get AstraZeneca shot Friday

‘Let’s show all British Columbians that the best vaccine is the one that’s available to you now,’ he said

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
P.1 variant likely highest in B.C. due to more testing for it: Dr. Henry

Overall, just under 60% of new daily cases in the province involve variants

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Most Read