The following is a summary of HeatKills.org. Scroll down to read “The Story of HeatKills.org,” a more detailed description of why the organization was created, what it’s accomplished thus far, and its future aspirations.
Overview: HeatKills.org is an informational website that is dedicated to helping to prevent dogs from suffering in hot cars. The organization currently exists as a one-person volunteer project, created and led by Jon Sutz, a multimedia designer-writer, dog advocate and author, based in Charlottesville, VA. A fundraising effort is now underway to transform HeatKills.org into an IRS-approved charity. To learn more, click here.
Mission: HeatKills.org has three long-term missions:
- To create state-of-the-art educational tools and activism strategies that will raise public awareness of the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars
- To help other key organizations to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to dogs suffering in hot cars (particularly police departments, mall managers, SPCAs, etc.)
- To help ensure that people who leave dogs in hot cars face severe legal consequences
Donate: Click here to learn about our current funding needs, and how you can donate securely through PayPal.
The Story of HeatKills.org
by Jon Sutz
Dogs throughout America, and the world, are suffering and dying from heatstroke, as a result of being left in hot cars. In most cases, this occurs because dog owners are unaware of the dangers of leaving them in cars, even on seemingly “cool” (eg 70 degree) days, and even if the windows are left partially open.
This public unawareness, in turn, is largely the result of the fact that local authorities – police officers, shopping mall and movie theater managers, animal shelters, etc. – are also unaware of this danger. Or worse, as I documented in a recent report, a local SPCA publicized medical information that, according to veterinarians, would likely make a dog in possible heatstroke worse, or kill it. More on that in a moment.
What I found most shocking of all in my research, though, is the fact that the official Virginia state curriculum one studies in order to become an Animal Control Officer contains not a single word about the heatstroke danger to dogs. This means that unless the ACO has received supplemental training, he or she may have absolutely no knowledge of how quickly the interior temperature of a car rises, or the signs of heatstroke, or how to properly attempt to save a dog from this situation.
Because of this knowledge deficiency, at both the street and “official” levels, when intelligent but uninformed people encounter a dog in a hot car, they often will leave the scene without doing anything This often occurs either because they don’t recognize the danger, they hope that the dog won’t be left there for long, or wish to avoid a confrontation with the owner, or to “create a scene.”
Even if they do sense the danger and call the police, in many cases they are told that the local laws do not allow for a dog to be rescued from a vehicle, unless it is clearly in “distress” – meaning that it is displaying symptoms of heatstroke. In reality, as any competent veterinarian will attest, this means that the dog may already suffering the early or advanced signs of brain damage, and/or damage to other internal organs.
In many cases, at that point it may be too late to save the dog; it will die an agonizing, painful death – a death that was 100% preventable, had its owner, the general public and local law enforcement had the knowledge and ability to save it. Or, as a noted veterinarian I interviewed said, the dog (especially an older one) may not display symptoms of the hidden damage caused by the heatstroke until a month later.
For years prior to 2012, I’d been observing incidents of dogs being left in vehicles, in conditions that I sensed were very dangerous. If the incident occurred at a shopping mall, I tried to alert management. If that didn’t work, or occurred elsewhere, I called the police. In the vast majority of these incidents, my concern was not that the dog was in heatstroke – but that if it remained in that situation much longer, it would be.
Unfortunately, I had repeated disagreements with dog owners, mall/store personnel and law enforcement officers who doubted or outright dismissed my concerns, particularly:
- My assertion that leaving a dog in a car in such conditions put it at risk of heatstroke
- How long I alleged the dog/s had been left in the car
In regards to (1), I was told over and over again that my concerns were unfounded. That I don’t understand heatstroke. And that I should mind my own business (sometimes in very… colorful terms). Although I had no formal education or training in heatstroke issues and dogs, I had picked up enough bits of information through the years to give me a general sense that these dogs were or would soon be in danger, if someone didn’t intervene.
In regards to (2), to validate what I was observing, in 2012 I began videotaping every incident I observed, then documenting the recorded temperature at that time, prior to calling the police or trying to alert the store/mall manager.
See the complete archive of my videos at:
Videos of dogs in hot cars
As these incidents continued, to prevent ever being caught off-guard again without basic facts, I began researching heatstroke matters online. Although I found lots of allegations about the heatstroke dangers to dogs, few linked back to reliable scientific sources that I could check for myself. Of those that did provide credible links, both the source and reference material were often presented in an awkward manner, and spread out in different places on the Internet.
I was unable to find one site that presented all this information in a simple, compelling way, that the average person could quickly grasp, and to which I could refer when I got into any future disputes with people or authorities who operate according to what I confirmed were egregious misconceptions.
These facts and observations led me to conclude that there was a significant need for someone with the diverse skills I possess (in graphic design, research, writing, website development and more) to create an online resource that contains clearly-presented, well-organized, authoritative information on why it is so dangerous to leave dogs in cars.
This began my journey to create such a website, which I named HeatKills.org. I did, and do this work in honor and loving memory of the “miracle dog” who helped to save my life after 9/11, and about whom I wrote my first book. Learn more here.
Since 2014 I’ve accomplished the following, working on an independent, self-funded basis:
- Key infographic on interior car temperatures over time: My first priority was to consolidate the research data I accessed from various sources, about how quickly the interior temperature of a car rises, even when the windows are left partially open, into one infographic, that’s so simple even a child can understand it. This infographic became the centerpiece of much of my outreach work.
- Printed posters based on this infographic: I then adapted this infographic to a series of large- and small-format posters, which I distributed at Charlottesville, VA-area dog parks, coffee shops (below, at Starbucks), the University of Virginia, and pet supply stores. I also created a downloadable and print-able version of the poster, with tear-off tabs, so that anyone, anywhere in English-speaking world, could quickly begin to spread this information, as far and wide as their resources and time permitted. See more here.
- The HeatKills.org website: The site evolved over a period of several months, and now includes several dozen pages, the centerpiece of which is The Facts About Leaving Dogs In Hot Cars, a compilation of authoritative source information from veterinarians, scientists, automakers and others.
- Several in-depth, original articles, including:
“Special Report: Virginia SPCA fails to provide heatstroke information — and worse”: A nationally-regarded SPCA with a multi-million dollar budget, accepts $750,000 from local taxpayers, in part, for public education. Yet it not only posted no information on its website or Facebook page about heatstroke, it produced a printed flyer on the subject that contains medical advice so dangerously incorrect that according to veterinary experts, if followed, it would make a dog in heatstroke worse – or kill it.
“Interview with Ernie Ward, DVM”: Dr. Ward is an internationally-known veterinarian, author and heatstroke advocate, who videotaped himself in an SUV, with the windows partially down, to show how quickly it heats up. The video was viewed nearly three million times around the world. Dr. Ward gave insights into how unaware both the general public and the authorities often are, in regards to heatstroke.
I’ve done all I can to help raise awareness of the heatstroke danger to dogs, given my available time and resources. Yet the problem persists, as evidenced by the regularity with which we hear of dogs suffering and dying in hot cars. And in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators had no idea (or downplayed) the danger into which they were placing their dogs – and the authorities didn’t, or couldn’t, act to rescue them.
On the bright side, I’ve received encouragement from emergency veterinarians and knowledgeable dog advocates in the U.S. and beyond, who feel that HeatKills.org is a good resource, and needs to be shared on a wider basis. I concur – especially after recently encountering (and videotaping) yet another situation, on October 12, 2015, of four dogs locked in an SUV for at least thirty minutes, in direct sunlight, in 72 degree temperature, and the police officers I summoned refused to even get out of their (air-conditioned) cruiser to check out the dogs.
My mission now is three-fold:
- To transform HeatKills.org into a federally-registered nonprofit
- To nurture it to its first level of maturity
- To recruit a first-rate group of professionals, to whom I will turn over the reins
To facilitate the first stage of this transformation, I have initiated the HeatKills.org Seed Capital Fundraising Campaign. The objective of the campaign is to raise $30,000 to prepare and file our IRS nonprofit application, conduct distance and in-person research with various stakeholders, then research and develop a comprehensive business plan (est. four-month process).
Click here to learn more about the campaign, and donate securely through PayPal.
I am a multi-media designer, writer and creative consultant, based in Charlottesville, VA (www.jonsutz.com). Since 1989, I’ve provided creative leadership on educational, advertising and corporate communications projects for clients throughout the U.S. and Southeast Asia including Sharp Electronics, Intel, Entergy, the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, the American Productivity & Quality Center, and many others.
My specialty is converting complex subject matter into analytical graphics and visualizations (also known as infographics). I have applied this skill particularly to help attorneys craft graphic courtroom presentations. For several years I also wrote, designed and directed the production of corporate and educational documentary videos.
I recently completed my first book, an inspirational memoir about the “miracle dog” who helped to save my life after 9/11, and in whose loving memory I created HeatKills.org: “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From A Miracle Dog.”
Shayna, my first dog, came into my life shortly after 9/11, as just a little baby, a Border Collie-Husky mix. As I describe in the book I spent six years writing about her, she went on to save, and completely change my life. Shayna’s spirit was (and remains) the most infectiously radiant, angelic, beautiful one I’ve ever encountered, and I consider the good fortune to have come across her when I did, and to spend twelve years together, to be the greatest gift I ever received.
I created HeatKills.org in loving memory of Shayna, and dedicate it to her, and to all the other dogs who deserve to be protected from suffering heatstroke.
Here is a 6-minute video that will give you some indication of what made Shayna, and my relationship with her, so incredibly special: