How to keep your pets safe during peak of summer heat wave

Among other things, pet owners should be wary of the sidewalk and street -- both can burn paw pads on hot days -- when considering taking your dog for a routine walk.

Oak Valley’s Collin Walker hangs out with some of his four-legged friends at Deptford Doggie Park last Thursday. Dog parks are ideal spots for dogs in the summer since asphalt sidewalks can get too hot for their paws. (RYAN LAWRENCE/The Sun)

For our four-legged friends, the dangers of summer don’t end with the annoyance of constant fireworks during the week of Independence Day. 

Just as their powerful ears are more susceptible to loud noises than ours are, most dogs also aren’t walking around in sneakers, hightops or flip-flops. Like fireworks, a hot sidewalk can be a danger to your pet.

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Bill Lombardi, the longtime director at the Gloucester County Animal Shelter, likened it to that awkward and painful dance we do when we’re coming off the beach on a July afternoon.

“When we’re down the shore and we’re walking on the boardwalk, or coming off the beach and walking onto the sand or the boardwalk, your feet are burning,” Lombardi said. “You’re waiting to get into a shady spot because of how hot it is.

‘Feel that pain, and that’s what a dog goes through when you’re walking them on the concrete or the asphalt. It can get up to 100-something degrees and burn the bottom of their pads.”

Lombardi, who joined the Gloucester County Animal Shelter in 1987 and is retiring this week, has seen pictures of the results when people don’t realize what they’re putting their pet through, like dogs with blisters that need treatment and could easily be avoided.

Just as we should all apply sunblock to avoid skin cancer, drink plenty of water to avoid getting dehydrated and limit activities like mowing our lawns for hours when the sun is at its height, we have to look out for our pets during the summer, too.

Pet owners who don’t comply with simple rules can  face offenses if they’re not keeping their animals safe. First- and second-offense fines range from $100 to 200; a third offense would bring a higher fine at the discretion of a judge.

If you’re accustomed to taking your dog out for regular walks, Banfield Pet Hospital recommends you place your bare hand on the concrete for 10 seconds. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on.

Instead, invest in booties (a shoe-sock hybrid for pets), walk your dog on a grassy area, or take it to one of the many dog parks throughout the county.

But also keep in mind how hot it is, period. 

“If it is an outside dog, get a kiddie pool for it to lay in,” Lombardi said. “If it’s chained up to a doghouse, a lot of dogs are going to knock their water bowl over because they want to lay in the cool water. So in addition to keeping your dog out of the sun, buy a kiddie pool so he can lay in it. And just make sure they’re out of the sun and in the shade if you can’t bring them indoors. 

“But I definitely recommend bringing their animals indoors, especially when there’s this humidity,” Lombardi added. “What did it get up to, 100 (degrees in heat index) this week? Your dog has got a fur coat on. Can you imagine putting a fur coat on and going out and sitting in the sun? See how you feel after 10 minutes.”

Deptford Doggie Park was a popular place last Thursday and the pups, like North, found an area to cool off at the water fountain. (RYAN LAWRENCE/The Sun)

In February of 2019, new animal cruelty laws went into effect in New Jersey concerning the safety of dogs and other companion animals. Deptford Township Police detective Sgt. John Gigante was among the officers who  attended a weeklong series of classes to become certified humane law enforcement officers, around the same time the state laws went into effect.

Each township police department within the county had to have officers go through the same training after the SPCA was abolished.

“What they taught us in the school, and it is pretty much common sense, but to treat the animal like it’s one of your kids,” Gigante said. “That’s pretty much how they wrote the laws. If you’re letting it outside, it should be under observation. Any time during the hours of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. is a no-no, because they can get hurt if nobody is observing it.”

And anytime between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. isn’t safe during the summer  either, particularly if the pet is outside for long periods of time without shade of hydration. Among the laws that went into effect 18 months ago, the state made it unlawful to expose any dog to adverse environmental conditions (temperatures under 32 degrees and over 90 degrees) for more than 30 minutes, unless the animal has continual access to proper shelter.

“We do get frequent calls when the weather hits the low 90s of improper shelter,” Gigante added, “mainly when you have sunny backyards with no trees and no type of shade. But people can make a makeshift tarp (or cover) for the animal to go under for less than 30 minutes outside.”

And just like a water bowl outside can get turned over if a dog is looking to cool off, it can also turn into a bigger problem if it’s left unattended for too long. 

“It only takes a couple of minutes for water to get hot,” Gigante said. “Those metal water bowls? They get extremely hot, the reflected water bowls.”

Some other things to keep in mind include always making sure a pet outside is visible to the owner from inside, that the tether of a dog outside isn’t too heavy for it to move around and that an inground pool can be a drowning risk for a smaller dog looking to cool off.

And then there’s the danger of taking your dog or cat with you when you run out to the store in the summer. Just don’t do it. 

A dog with anxiety is better off barking nonstop inside an air-conditioned home than left unattended in a hot car.

“People who take their pets to the store in this heat, it’s so crucial to keep the car running,” Lombardi said. “If you don’t and that dog or cat is in the car without air conditioning, you can fry them in like 10 minutes.”

Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.
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