Interview with Ernie Ward, DVM

Written by on September 2, 2014 in HeatKills News, Heroes

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EWardErnie Ward, DVM is an Associate Veterinarian with VCA Seaside Animal Hospital in Calabash, NC. He is also a renaissance man: musician, triathlete, public advocate on a range of animal welfare issues, and candidate for U.S. Senate. Learn more about Dr. Ward here.

I first became aware of Dr. Ward when I was beginning to study dog nutrition, as part of my effort to help reduce Shayna’s excess weight (we were successful!). I cited Dr. Ward’s book, “Chow Hounds,” in my own book, about how Shayna saved, and transformed my life. Then, after creating HeatKills.org, I saw a very unique video that Dr. Ward made, to raise awareness of the danger to dogs in hot cars – and that caused me to reach out to him, for this interview. – Jon Sutz

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HeatKills.org: Thanks for participating in this interview, Dr. Ward. What compelled you to make the video of you in the hot car?

Ernie Ward, DVM: I had seen cases over the years of dogs having been confined in hot cars. But it was one particular incident, on a Saturday, that inspired me to do the video. I was working at the clinic, when a woman came in to pick up medicine for her dog.

We were busy, and the clock was ticking. I knew she had her dog with her, and ten minutes had passed. I expressed concern about her dog, but her response was basically, “Oh it’s okay, I left the windows partially open, and it’s only been a few minutes.” I replied, “No, it’s been over ten minutes.” She was unaware of the danger, so I explained it to her – that even on a seemingly cool day, even with the windows partially opened, it can be dangerous or deadly to leave a dog in your car.

So a little while later, after the clinic closed down, I just decided to go film myself in a car, to show what happens to a human being when confined in such an environment.

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What was the reaction to the video?

It’s been picked up all over world, translated into 6 languages, and viewed nearly two million times. Cities have broadcast it on public access TV.  It has helped untold people to understand this issue.  Critics say, “You should have measured this, tracked that, etc.” But that wasn’t the purpose of the video. Its purpose was to experience the emotion of being locked in car.

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How often do you treat dogs who have been left it hot cars?

We treat heatstroke cases on a sadly regular basis.

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How do you judge the level of “official” knowledge – police, lawmakers, SPCAs?

It’s very elementary. I was contacted recently by someone in a situation in which it was apparent that law enforcement wasn’t really aware of issues concerning heatstroke danger.

Many also don’t know that older dogs are the most vulnerable, and can actually suffer hidden damage, such as in the case of renal failure. A lot of these dogs, the symptoms don’t actually show up until a month later, but they were accelerated by an event in a hot car.

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31July14 CASPCA flyer (1)
Here in Charlottesville, VA, the local SPCA (which has at least one staff veterinarian) produced and is distributing a flyer that claims the best way to treat a dog in heatstroke, prior to bringing it to a veterinarian, is “to cool him with cold water and ice.” Your reaction?

I disagree. You should not attempt to rapidly cool your dog. Instead, your objective should be to get the dog into a cool environment as quickly as possible, then to gradually lower its temperature through tap water, or cool water – not ice.

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If you were to speculate, would you say that dogs are left in hot cars primarily because people don’t know the facts, or because they decided to gamble – to say, “Oh, he’ll be fine, I’ll only be gone for ten or fifteen minutes?”

I don’t know, and wouldn’t want to speculate.

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You are running
for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, and part of your platform includes addressing the puppy mill issue. Aside from that, is there anything in your political platform re dogs, and particularly, leaving dogs in hot cars?

I’m active in a lot of different things politically. In 2013, I had some impact on state legislation, regarding giving police officers more rights to break into cars to save both children and dogs.

I am now seeking a law that would protect individuals who break into car, which we were unable to get passed. Is there model legislation for this? Not really. We were blazing a new trail. You have create a situation in which there’s collaboration with lawmakers, police departments and other stakeholders.

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Any last words of advice – for HeatKills.org, or the general public, concerning how to help prevent any more dogs from suffering due to heat-related causes?

The grassroots efforts are really important to keep getting the word out about the danger to dogs in hot cars. There are also important corporate initiatives that are helping.

For example, Pet Plan Pet Insurance recently launched its Driven to Bark campaign, the objective of which is to encourage all U.S. states to pass legislation that prohibits leaving dogs unattended in vehicles.

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About the Author

About the Author: My name is Jon Sutz. I am a dog-loving multimedia graphic designer, writer and creative consultant, in Charlottesville, VA (bio). But the most important, joyous job I've ever had, was as "dad" to Shayna, the miracle dog who helped to save my life after 9/11, and about whom I wrote my first book, "Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From A Miracle Dog." Learn more about Shayna at her website. In tribute to Shayna, I developed HeatKills.org to help raise awareness of the dangers of leaving one's dog in a hot car. .

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