Special Report: Virginia SPCA fails to provide heatstroke information — and worse

Written by on September 8, 2014 in HeatKills News

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A special report by Jon Sutz, creator of HeatKills.org

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Introduction & summary

Dog in hot car 2

If the local SPCA won’t help prevent me from being put in this situation, who will?

A community’s SPCA is its first line of defense to prevent dogs from suffering in hot cars. Many SPCAs, even those that are struggling for funding, place a premium on using the resources they have, particularly their websites and Facebook pages, to inform the public of why leaving a dog in a car can be so dangerous — or deadly. Often, this information can often be obtained and distributed for free, or at very low cost. (see this page of flyers from around the world, including other SPCAs)

This report, however, documents how one notable, well-funded, professionally-run Virginia SPCA:

  • Has published no information on ether its website or Facebook page about heatstroke dangers to dogs
  • Recently produced and distributed a printed flyer containing medical advice that, according to veterinarians, if followed, could make a dog in heatstroke far worse — or kill it

It is my hope that this report will act as a catalyst for swift, corrective action, to help prevent any more dogs in this community from suffering in hot cars.

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About the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (CASPCA)

The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA has been a cherished institution in Central Virginia since its founding in 1914. [Ed.: I had only positive things to say about the CASPCA in my recent book, in which I describe how patient and professional its staff was during my long search in 2002 for my first dog — and how Shayna went on to transform my life. Each April 7, I brought the staff cake and other goodies to celebrate the date of our adoption, and thank them for all the good they do. It is also one of three local charities to which I will be donating a portion of my book sales.] In 2006, the CASPCA became no-kill, and two years later won a $400,000 grant from a prestigious national charity to ensure it continues to be. The shelter is well-funded, with an overall budget of nearly $4,000,000. It receives $750,000 from Charlottesville and Albemale County taxpayers each year, plus $3,000,000 more from other sources of revenue. It recently constructed a brand new, state-of-the-art facility, and has a staff of professional executives, administrators and medical personnel (including at least one full-time veterinarian).

The CASPCA claims its mission is (emphasis added):

“(T)o set a standard of excellence and leadership in animal care, humane education, and progressive animal welfare programs… for our region, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the nation…”

Given all these facts, one might assume that the CASPCA is at the forefront of educating the Charlottesville-area public about heatstroke and dogs, and why they should never be left in cars.  As this report documents, however, that assumption would be very wrong.

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The CASPCA has published no information concerning heatstroke danger to dogs on either its website or its Facebook page

The CASPCA has not been using either of its major social media platforms to distribute any information — good or bad — regarding the danger of leaving a dog in a hot car. Here’s how I know this to be a fact:

As I began creating HeatKills.org in late June 2014, the first entity I turned to for information on heatstroke was the CASPCA’s website and Facebook page, but was stunned to find that both were devoid of such information. I then looked for a search function on its website, to look up key words (eg “heat,” “heatstroke,” etc.) but observed that there is none; here’s a screencap from August 25. This stands in stark contrast to the fact that even the most basic, free modern website templates include a search box on the front page, or enable the creator to easily install one. Why would the CASPCA’s site not include such a basic, common feature?

Frustrated, I called the shelter. The person who fielded my call told me that there is information on either the CASPCA’s website or Facebook page concerning heatstroke and dogs, but she did not know where. I then suggested that they make the information easier to find, and urged them to add a search function to the website; she said she’d forward that suggestion on.

The CASPCA website: No heatstroke info from July 11 – August 25

On July 10, I re-evaluated both the CASPCA’s website and Facebook page, and could still find nothing. The next day, July 11, I took a photographic (screencap) survey of the entire caspca.org website, to demonstrate that there was no mention whatsoever of anything regarding heatstroke. See this survey here:

July 11, 2014 survey of CASPCA website

Six weeks later, on August 25, I did another photo-survey of the website — still nothing:

August 25, 2014 survey of CASPCA website

The CASPCA Facebook page: No heatstroke info from January 1 – August 25, 2014

Also on July 11, I began periodically monitoring the CASPCA’s Facebook page. As it would be too cumbersome to document the lack of information on heatsroke posts via screencaps, I was advised by a tech-savvy friend of a way to accurately capture, in one file, every post the CASPCA put up since January 1, 2014. A keyword search for the terms “heat,” “heatstroke,” “hot,” “cars,” “hypothermia,” etc., returned nothing that related to this topic. (Interested parties can contact me for information on details on the method I found, and to examine the file for themselves.)

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The CASPCA printed and publicly distributed a flyer containing medical advice that, if followed, could make a dog in heatstroke worse — or kill it

In late July 2014, soon after I unveiled HeatKills.org, I began conducting research with both the Charlottesville and Albemarle County police departments, regarding any efforts they have underway to combat the phenomenon of people leaving dogs in hot cars. I learned a lot from both, and was told that on July 31, the Albemarle County Police Dept was going to have a joint public display with the CASPCA in front of our local Sam’s Club, to raise awareness of heatstroke danger to dogs in cars. My contact suggested that I go to the event, evaluate the display, and provide feedback.

The display consisted of an ACPD cruiser with a thermometer in the window, and CASPCA-produced flyers taped all over it (I later learned that the CASPCA has distributed stacks of these flyers at numerous high-traffic locations throughout Charlottesville):

31July14 ACPD display at SamsClub (2)

The front of the flyer (red) that the CASPCA produced, and taped all over the vehicle, is here. The back of the flyer is below:

31July14 CASPCA flyer (1)

The reverse of the CASPCA-produced flyer, which it taped all over an ACPD cruiser on July 31, 2014.

Note that in the last paragraph, it states (emphasis added):

“If your dog is overcome by heat exhaustion, you can give immediate first aid by cooling him with cold water and ice. Then have a veterinarian check the dog.”

31July14 CASPCA flyer callout

Although I am not a veterinarian, from what I learned through the years by being Shayna’s “dad” about basic dog physiology, that advice struck me as being very wrong.  As I was already in the process of speaking with veterinarians around America regarding heatstroke issues for this website, I decided to ask them about this advice by the CASPCA as well.

Veterinarians across America say the advice contained on the CASPCA flyer is not just wrong — it’s dangerously wrong.

The following is a sampling of responses I got from individual veterinarians regarding this matter, and authoritative information sources to which they referred me:

One Charlottesville veterinarian who has dealt extensively with heatstroke cases (but who requested anonymity) introduced me to an industry website, Veterinary Partner, a worldwide online community of thousands of veterinarians. Specifically, this vet referred me to an article at the site which explicitly states that using cold water or ice to cool an overheated dog are examples of “what NOT to do” in this situation:

“Do not use cold water or ice for cooling. […] “While ice or cold water may seem logical, its use is not advised. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed, as ice or cold water will cause superficial blood vessels to shrink, effectively forming an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside.

VetPartner - do not use cold water or ice

Screencap from Veterinary Partners page.

Ernie Ward, DVM, a nationally-recognized veterinarian in North Carolina, reviewed the CASPCA flyer as part of an interview I did with him for HeatKills.org. His reaction (emphasis added):

“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.”

Another local veterinarian (who also requested anonymity) referred me to Veterinarian News Network, a national network of animal health professionals, which produced a video that deals specifically with this issue. Note that at the 1:20 mark, it explicitly states that one should never use cold water or ice to treat a dog in heatstroke:

Banfield Pet Hospitals, a chain of 800 veterinary clinics (located inside PetSmart stores) throughout North America, also explicitly advises against using cold water or ice to treat a dog suspected to be suffering from heatstroke. To the contrary, it recommends that the dog be brought directly to a vet, and:

“(O)n your way, you can help lower your pet’s temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the pet’s body, especially your pet’s feet (do not use ice water). If possible, place your pet’s face near a fan or in front of an air conditioning vent en route to the hospital.”

27Aug14 Banfield PH - DO NOT USE ICE WATER

Screencap from Banfield Pet Hospitals page; highlighted by me.

I also obtained a free advisory sheet from the Royal SPCA of Australia (RSPCA), part of their “Just Six Minutes” campaign to prevent dogs from suffering in hot cars.  Under the section “Heatstroke First Aid,” it echoes the advice offered above almost verbatim — but note that at the end, it also says:

“Caution: Cooling too quickly can cause complications”

RSPCA first aid advisory

An excerpt from the RSPCA’s flyer re heatstroke prevention and first aid, here.

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This point was also emphasized by several emergency veterinarians I spoke to (who requested anonymity) in states known for their high heat.  Specifically, they said that if the CASPCA’s medical advice were followed, it could kill a dog, particularly an older dog that was suffering heatstroke — if not immediately, then within the coming days or weeks. They said that the sudden shock to the system could cause damage to internal organs that would later reveal telltale signs through bloodwork and other diagnostic analysis, after the dog began displaying symptoms. (Dr. Ward’s comments in my interview with him also support this theory.)

That’s just a sampling of the feedback I received on the proper first aid to provide to a dog who may be suffering heatstroke — which I am going to be compiling into a dedicated page at HeatKills.org:

“Tips For Treating Heatstroke”

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Conclusion; Who to contact to voice your opinion

jeffbible_jeffersionIt is grimly ironic that this situation occurred in Charlottesville, VA, the community made world-famous by Thomas Jefferson, a tireless advocate for public education, who explained why ignorance can sometimes be preferable to harboring inaccurate conceptions:

“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors.”

– Thomas Jefferson >

It is further ironic that this situation could occur in the same community in which a notable heatstroke tragedy took place several years ago: An employee at the famed University of Virginia’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) school left her infant in a car in March, when the exterior temperature only reached 66 degrees — yet the child suffered and died from heatstroke.

Through this report, I’ve done what I can to expose what I believe is a shocking, intolerable situation, in which the public’s lack of knowledge is actually being aggravated by the propagation of dangerously incorrect perceptions, by an entity that relies significantly on taxpayer funding.

It’s now up to the people in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area and their elected representatives to evaluate this report.  If they judge it to be credible, I stand ready to join them in any way I can so that together, we can help ensure that the CASPCA takes swift, corrective action in regards to its heatstroke education efforts.

If you’re interested in making your voice known on this report and the issues it addresses, here are the entities to contact:

The CASPCA’s Leadership Team

The CASPCA’s Board of Directors

Charlottesville City Council

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

If you have any comments regarding the report itself, feel free to email me, or call me at 434-825-8428.

Jon Sutz

September 2014

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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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