By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
With temperatures soaring over the past few weeks, the inevitable issue of animals left in very hot cars has begun to rear its head.
A quick sweep of news outlets across the province shows that several people face charges for leaving their pets unattended in vehicles as the humidex reached more than 40 degrees Celsius on the Canada Day weekend.
City of Oshawa municipal bylaw enforcement officers have the power to lay fines and even provincial offences under the Responsible Pet Owner’s Bylaw, enacted in 2016.
Kevin Feagan, manager of municipal law enforcement, says when the city receives concerns, bylaw officers will investigate.
After surveying the situation, offenders can face a $125 administrative monetary penalty or penalties under the Provincial Offences Act, with fines ranging from $300 to $25,000 depending on the situation.
“The penalty really depends on the severity of the incident,” Feagan says.
Incidents seem to be on the rise with the city receiving 21 calls already this year, equal to all of 2016 and 2017.
The handling of these types of incidents varies across the province.
In municipalities that do not have a specific bylaw in place, calls either go to the local police force or the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty (OSPCA).
Cst. George Tudos says Durham Region Police officers do respond to calls of this nature, but sometimes it is challenging to get there as soon as they’d like.
“It really depends on the day and the type of calls we have. Obviously, it is a priority if we can get to it,” Tudos says.
There is a misconception that breaking a car window to rescue a pet from hot conditions will not lead to prosecution under the law.
In 2016, a video of a man shattering the window of BMW to release a small dog locked inside in Grand Bend, Ont. went viral, leading some to consider him a hero.
However, Tudos says the DRPS does not recommend this type of action unless the animal is clearly in a high level of distress.
Potential window smashers should realize that even police and OSPCA officers can be liable for damage to vehicles.
A recent letter from the OPSCA to regional council calls on municipalities to adopt bylaws like Oshawa’s.
In the letter, OSPCA chief inspector Connie Mallory notes the organization has fewer than 75 officers to patrol the entire province.
“Due to our limited resources, we simply cannot respond to every single call and rely heavily on police and animal control to help respond to the 1,000 calls we receive every summer about dogs in cars,” Mallory states. “When we don’t have an officer nearby, or the call comes in after hours, it is dispatched to the local police in that area.”
Mallory tells The Oshawa Express sometimes there is only so much the police can do.
“Obviously, their first responsibility is the safety of people, so that’s always going to be their priority.”
Locally, the Humane Society of Durham Region acts as an independent affiliate for the OSPCA. However, with only one qualified officer to respond to all calls in the region, resources are stretched.
By local municipalities enacting their own bylaws, some of that pressure is relieved.
With the recent heat wave that baked southern Ontario for the better part of a week, the organization has been busy.
“There has been an increase of calls, I don’t have the specific numbers, but I can tell you our call centre has been very busy,” Mallory says.
For Mallory, there are just no plausible excuses for leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle on a hot day.
“A lot of people don’t think what they are doing is wrong. They think that bringing their pet with them will keep them happy,” she says. “They need to think of the welfare of the animal and ask themselves is there any point in this trip that I’m going to have to leave this animal alone.”