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Animal Control’s “Operation Cool Down” heats up

McDONOUGH — As temperatures start to climb, so does the danger of leaving a pet inside a car.

Henry County residents could face a fine as high as $1,000 for leaving their pet in a car unsupervised.

“The citation isn’t a set fee,” said Communications Director Julie Hoover-Ernst. “It’s up to the magistrate court judge, and it depends on the situation and how severe it is and so forth. But the maximum fine is about $1,000 and that could also earn that person up to 60 days in jail. However, if the dog dies, that elevates the charge to felony animal cruelty charge and of course, the penalties for that would be a lot higher.”

Henry County Animal Care and Control is stepping up patrols to be on the lookout for pets left in hot cars to prevent animal-related deaths.

Hoover-Ernst said pet owners may believe it’s safe to leave pets locked inside their vehicles during the heat of the day while they run inside a bank, store or restaurant “just for a few minutes,” but the situation can quickly escalate and become fatal.

According to Henry County Rabies Control Officer Vince Farah, last year the department had several calls for pets left in hot cars.

In fact, Animal Control issued 10 citations last year.

“They did have one animal die before they could get it out last year,” Hoover-Ernst said. “During the summer months, it becomes their top priority...They will get the police out there, they will pump out the locks, they will break a window, they will do what they need to do to get that dog out alive,” Hoover-Ernst said.

Hoover-Ernst said the only call that would take precedence would be a bite alert — if someone was in danger from a dog on the loose.

Farah said that the temperature inside a car on a hot day is much hotter than the thermometer reads, for example on a 90-degree day, temperatures inside a car can reach up to 120 degrees.

“A dog’s body temperature is naturally higher than ours anyway so it just really puts that dog in a dangerous situation very y quickly and they want to protect that dog’s health,” Hoover-Ernst added.

To combat this distressing trend, Henry County Animal Care and Control is bringing back the program they launched two years ago, known as “Operation Cool Down.”

Any animal that is found unattended in a vehicle, that is in distress, will be removed from that vehicle by Animal Care and Control officers by whatever means necessary, as permitted under Henry County Ordinance 09-01, Section 3-4-11.

Farah said officers from Animal Care & Control will be patrolling parking lots for animals that are left in vehicles.

“We’re keeping our eyes open for them,” he cautioned. “And we’re not writing warnings, we’re issuing citations to court if they are found to be in violation.”

Officials at Henry County Animal Care and Control advise residents to keep their pets at home if their pets cannot be with them at all times.

In addition, owners should make sure that their pets have a constant source of clean, cool, drinkable water at all times and have adequate shelter from the heat.

“Animal Control takes these kinds of calls very seriously,” Hoover-Ernst said. “If someone is out shopping and they are walking through the parking lot and they happen to notice that a dog is left in a vehicle, please call 911 and report that so animal control can come out and rescue that dog.”