Woman struggles to get help for dogs in hot cars

FILE - Dog in car (KXAN File Photo/Paul Shelton)
FILE - Dog in car (KXAN File Photo/Paul Shelton)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The idea of driving everywhere with our dog is a common and almost daily activity for many in Austin. However, some dog owners are risking endangering their pets by leaving them in the car while shopping or running errands.

This is a disturbing situation that Stephanie Denny came across while making a quick stop at a local grocery store. As a mother of three and a dog owner herself, Denny says she was surprised to see two dogs sitting in a parked car next to her, all the windows were rolled up and there was no owner in sight.

“The dogs were kind of standing up panting,” said Denny. “I knew how hot it was in my car, but I didn’t know how long they had been in their car, so I wasn’t really sure what to do.”

Denny had been in this situation before. She tells us that in the past, she called 311 first, but was transferred to 911 and had help sent for a dog left in a car. This time, she says the situation was handled completely different.

“I called 911 first and the dispatcher asked me a few questions about the dog being in distress,” Denny tell us. “I didn’t really know what that meant exactly. So she said ‘is the dog panting or about to pass out?’ I said ‘the dog in panting, but should I wait until its about to pass out?’ I wasn’t really sure.”

After being asked a few questions, Denny says she was transferred to 311, who then transferred her to a 911 dispatcher. After answering the same questions to each dispatcher, they eventually sent her to Animal Control, where Denny says she was simply brought to a voice recording.

“I always assume if you see something, say something,” Denny continues to tell us. “But the way dispatchers treated it, it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal to them. So it really left me with a lot of questions.”

KXAN contacted the city to find out just what happened with Stephanie’s call.

A spokesman told us that an animal would need to show signs of distress, like being lethargic or panting heavily, for emergency crews to be dispatched.

We were told by the city that when it comes to reporting pets left in vehicles, “Austin 311 transfers the caller to 911 if the animal is clearly in distress and there is a perceived danger to the health or life of the animal. Barking alone is not a sign of distress.”

The city spokesman explained, “If the animal is not in distress, but locked in a vehicle, Austin 311 will put in a request to Animal Control. Animal Control will then send out an officer to the location.”

Thankfully, Denny says that the owner returned to their car and promptly left the parking lot. However, she is concerned that next time, help may not arrive soon enough.

“I don’t see why risk it,” says Denny. “If you know you’re going to be running errands and going inside at some point, then don’t bring the dogs with you, just leave them at home.”

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