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Dogs left in hot cars reported daily in Gwinnett

LAWRENCEVILLE —You’ll want to think twice before leaving your canine pal in a sun-baked car this summer. The consequences can be dire.

“By the time you get back out there,” Sgt. Chip Moore said, “your dog could be dead.”

Moore, manager of the Gwinnett County animal shelter, said his office gets call every single day during the summer about dogs seemingly abandoned in hot vehicles. Nine times out of 10 the car is parked in front of a shopping center or retail store, and, almost as often, misguided pet owners return before or right as police arrive on the scene.

Then there are the other times. Just last month, a police officer in Buford responded to a call at a shopping center. Spotting the dog — “he was already starting to die” — the officer broke a window, removed him and put him in his air-conditioned patrol car with plenty of water.

“We take it very seriously,” Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said.

Relaying information provided by a veterinarian, Moore said that, on average, a dog can start to show signs of heat exhaustion after being left in a hot car for just five to seven minutes. While everything depends on things like the exact temperature and the canine’s size, health and breed, dogs can die from overheating in as little 10 to 12 minutes.

And the threshold for “hot” isn’t as high as you think.

On just an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car with windows cracked can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Thirty minutes can mean 120 degrees, irreversibe organ damage and death.

“We typically say if it’s 80 degrees outside, it’s life-threatening for a dog to be inside with no windows cracked,” Moore said. Even in a summer much rainier and cooler than usual, the high has eclipsed 80 on all but a handful of days in July.

Under county ordinance, Gwinnett County police are authorized to take the steps necessary to enter vehicles and remove pets if the outside temperature is above 80 degrees. That’s why uniformed officers, not just animal control, respond to most incidents.

If necessary, “it’s better to have a uniformed officer do that kind of thing,” Smith said.

Citations can be issued for animal neglect and, in extreme cases, arrests for animal cruelty.

Smith and Moore both said the vast majority of incidents involving dogs in cars are reported by Good Samaritans walking by. Anyone who witnesses such a situation is encouraged to call 911, not merely the police department.

“It’s one of those things where speed is kind of of the essence, for the safety of the dog,” Smith said.