I credit my dogs with higher intellects than my own.
During the summer, it's not uncommon to find me in my backyard garden, watering with literal sweat equity, yanking weeds and swatting mosquitoes. Inside, two noses - one black-and-white, one red - press against the glass watching me.
When I slide the door open and say, "Hey guys, wanna come out?" they throw it into reverse and back up madly across the kitchen floor, looking at me like I just offered them a one-way elevator ride to Hades.
Not all dogs and cats prefer the luxury of air conditioning the way mine do, nor do some have the option. So as the weather gets hotter, we need to help our outdoor friends regulate.
Cats and dogs only sweat from their foot pads, and they cool down by panting. I personally find it discomforting to think about sweating that way - I have a thing about drool and wet feet. And I can't imagine it's comfortable for them. It sure isn't when my dogs lean against the bed panting so hard it feels like I've installed Magic Fingers in the mattress.
The Lawrence Humane Society spends a lot of time during extreme weather conditions checking outdoor animals who need assistance. During May, for example, staff members checked out 46 potential abuse/neglect cases; of those, about 80 percent provided opportunities to educate pet owners about how to avoid heat stress problems. Much as we prepare our houses or our cars for weather changes, we need to help our pets get through them, too. Heat stress is often fatal. Taking a few simple steps can keep your pets safe and lower the Humane Society's number of home visits.
First of all, we need to make sure our pets have access to water and shade - and plenty of it. None of us would purposely put ourselves in 90-plus-degree sunshine wearing a fur coat and having nothing to drink. Neither would our pets, but if that's where we put them, they don't have much choice but to suffer through it. Stabilize their bowls or check them regularly to see if they've knocked their water over. Remember that dark-furred dogs, or breeds with short stubby noses such as boxers or bulldogs, tend to overheat even more quickly, so pay special attention to them. And shaved dogs can suffer sunburn just like we do.
Remember that as much as they may beg to go along in the car, our pets are best left at home if we're running errands. A locked car in the summer sunshine - even with the windows partially open - can heat up to 200 degrees in very short order. And we can't rely on our air-conditioning systems while we're in the stores. It's not safe to leave the car running with animals bouncing around inside, and AC units have been known to conk out.
When walking our dogs, we need to keep in mind that asphalt and cement retain heat and radiate it upward. If we're uncomfortable, imagine how much hotter it is closer to the surface. And our dogs are going "barefoot" on top of it, making them susceptible to burned foot pads.
Running or biking with dogs (if we're that motivated) is not a good idea unless it's early in the morning or later in the evening, when it's not so hot out. Dogs unaccustomed to the exercise need to start off slowly, just as we do, and not all animals can go as long or as far as we do. Always bring water along to help them stay hydrated.
Finally, don't forget about mosquitoes, which can cause heartworm. Ticks are busy spreading their own bevy of diseases, and fleas are just plain annoying. These insect problems can be avoided. Check with your vet for the best treatments for your best friends.
Summer can be a good time to enjoy pets if we stay vigilant about possible problems. If you see a neighbor neglecting an animal, please don't hesitate to report them to the Humane Society at 843-6835 so we can help correct the situation. All reports will remain confidential.
- Sue Novak is the president of the Lawrence Humane Society board. During May, the Lawrence Humane Society handled 232 new dogs in addition to the 168 carried over from the previous month, and 225 cats in addition to the already housed 243. If you don't have room for a new pet in your home but want to help out, the shelter needs dry kitten and puppy food, canned cat food, bleach and laundry detergent. And if your friend needs a bath, the shelter is offering a dog wash at Petco from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.