Warnings often understate the risk, points out expert John Van Zante
ENCINITAS, California––Rancho Coastal Humane Society executive director John Van Zante, who has led the world in campaigning against leaving animals and children in hot cars throughout his 24 years in humane work, on July 19, 2023 erupted on social media against what he called, in all capital letters, “FALSE INFORMATION ABOUT HEAT DANGER IN CARS. Including info posted by shelters and rescues.
“Just saw a chart,” Van Zante explained, “that said, ‘If it’s 90 degrees, the temperature in a closed car can hit 110 in an hour.’
“If it’s 90 and you leave your dog in a car for an hour,” fumed the normally soft-spoken Van Zante, “you’re going to lose your dog.
“No. Your dog cannot get in with you!”
“Don’t believe it? Take a thermometer, then sit in your closed car. Or watch our real-time video,” much of which is quoted below.
“Please share it. You might save a life,” Van Zante urged.
“Still don’t believe it?” Van Zante challenged. “Come see me at Rancho Coastal Humane Society and I’ll put you in a car with a thermometer.
“No. Your dog cannot get in with you!”
Five degrees in 16 seconds
Van Zante, 70, used to summon media, then sit in a car in direct sunlight with a thermometer to make his point.
He does not do that these days, but allows Rancho Coastal Humane Society volunteers to do an annual heat demonstration.
“We take one day, a typical hot summer day before the Fourth of July,” Van Zante narrated on video this year.
“We put a thermometer on the dashboard. We close the doors and windows and we show what happens. We started at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
“In 16 seconds the thermometer hit eighty and kept rising to 110 degrees in two minutes. It reached 126 degrees after three minutes,” at which point Van Zante had the 2023 volunteer leave the car.
“Anyone in the car would be dead”
“The thermometer went on up to 158 degrees,” Van Zante showed, “in just the time it would take you to run into a convenience store to get a cold drink and a snack.
“Anyone in there, a pet, a baby, anyone with a medical condition, or an older person would be dead.
“It happens that fast and after that you don’t get a second chance,” Van Zante reminded.
No agency formally tracks animal deaths in hot cars, but according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency, “In 2022, 33 children died of heatstroke in vehicles. In 2018 and 2019, we saw a record number of hot car deaths: 53 children died each year.
“Every breath heats the dog up more”
Van Zante had one further point to make.
“One thing a lot of people don’t realize about a dog who is left in a hot car, or a car that gets hot on a hot day,” Van Zante explained, “is that dogs don’t sweat, they pant. They sweat a little bit through their paws, but panting is how they cool off.
“But a dog’s normal body temperature is 102 to 103 degrees,” Van Zante continued.
“If the air the dog is breathing is 105, 110, or 150 degrees, every breath the dog takes just heats the dog up more.”
What about leaving the car windows open a crack?
If the crack is narrow enough to keep thieves from reaching in and unlocking the car doors, Van Zante has discovered through repeated testing, the difference in the interior temperature from leaving the windows fully closed is only three to five degrees Fahrenheit.
Tesla drivers’ dogs are protected by “dog mode”
Tesla drivers who park their cars in “dog mode” are exempt from Van Zante’s lecture.
The unique Tesla “dog mode” feature keeps the car interior at between 66 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter what the outside temperature.
The dashboard computer screen, the size of a typical laptop computer, displays a message clearly legible to passers-by who look in a passenger window, reading “My driver will be back soon. Don’t worry! The A/C is on and it’s 70 degrees [or whatever the actual temperature] Fahrenheit.”
But only about four million of the 243.4 million U.S. drivers drive Teslas.
Nine pit bulls in two vehicles in 111-degree heat
Most of the people prosecuted in hot car animal and human death cases are far from the Tesla-driving class, though human hot car deaths involving victims older than infants appear to be more frequent in newer cars with electronic locks.
Katrina Brazil, 47, of Las Vegas, is a case in point.
Brazil was arrested on July 14, 2023 outside a Motel 6 after she “allegedly left nine dogs inside two hot vehicles on a sweltering 111-degree day,” reported Michael Bell of Fox 5 television news.
Two of the dogs died, a pit bull adult and a pit bull puppy.
A witness said Brazil immersed the dead puppy in ice water after seeing that the dogs had overheated.
Homeless, breeding pit bulls
According to the police report, “Brazil said the dogs were hers and that she and her boyfriend had been breeding them for money,” Bell summarized.
“Brazil explained that she had been evicted two days earlier from a residence and her boyfriend had been arrested during the night. She claimed to have left five dogs in her car and four dogs in her boyfriend’s truck for about 30 minutes or longer.
“Brazil told police she had both engines running with the air conditioning going, with water, but no water was found” in either vehicle.
A LinkedIn page identifies Brazil as a “vacation adviser at Hilton Grand Vacations” in Las Vegas since March 2013.
Gambling against the heat
On the same day, July 14, 2023, police in Lincoln, Rhode Island arrested Young Ju Seol, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for leaving her adult cocker spaniel mix woman inside her hot car while she gambled at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort.
Police found the dog at about 7:00 p.m. after responding to a report of a car parked with brake lights inexplicably on, and “heavy condensation” on the windows.
“Police said they forced their way into the car and found the dog dead on the driver’s side front floor. They said that at the time, the air temperature was more than 80 degrees and the temperature inside the car exceeded 110 degrees,” reported Norman Miller of the MetroWest Daily News.
“Police said the car’s air conditioner was not left on and the dog had no water,” Miller added.
Seol was charged with maliciously killing an animal and improper animal confinement in a motor vehicle.
Kentucky offender was fined $100
Relatively few hot car death cases––involving either animals or humans––actually go to trial. Most are settled by plea bargain.
But in a rare case that did go to trial, a jury in Fayette County, Kentucky, on January 13, 2023 convicted a man named William Jackson on 10 counts of animal cruelty for leaving ten dogs in a hot car in August 2022, in which the temperature reached 137 degrees.
Three of the dogs died.
Jackson was fined $100 and was prohibited from keeping animals during a year-long probation.