They call this time of year the dog days of summer, but a new Virginia law aims to keep those outdoor canines cool in the shade during sweltering bouts of heat.

State law now stipulates that adequate shelter for animals “during hot weather, is properly shaded and does not readily conduct heat.” The previous version of the law did not specify a requirement for shade.

“As of July 1 the law in Virginia is going to be changing and shade will have to be provided for domestic animals,” said Paulette Dean, executive director of Danville Area Humane Society, who added that dog houses are no longer considered adequate shelter in the summer. “They can not be affected by direct sunlight because the dog houses just become sweat boxes.”

Leni Blackwell said she walks her beagle at Dan Daniel Memorial Park once a week. “I am surprised that the law is necessary because a dog owner should know that a dog house will be extremely hot,” said Blackwell.

Dean said the Danville organization played a part in having the law changed. “We wrote some letters and helped to get that passed,” she said, “and now the law is stricter and better.”

Every year one or two area dogs die of heat stroke, said Dean. That number, however, could be higher because many times the death is not reported or the cause is unknown.

“Heat stroke is very hard to prove during a necropsy,” she added.

In addition to the state law, there are existing local ordinances that offer companion animals some protection from the heat.

“In Danville there is the tethering ordinance that says when the temperatures are above 85 you can not have a companion animal tethered for any amount of time,” Dean said. In addition, she added, existing laws state that an animal’s water cannot be too hot.

“An owner has to be aware that an animal is not going to want to drink water that is hot because that will not make them feel cooler. This will be tricky for those who leave their animals outside and go to work but the law is that their water has to be a drinkable temperature.”

Keeping an animal hydrated is crucial in the summertime. The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation states there are ways to test to see if a dog is dehydrated. They warn the animal may have sunken eyes and its mouth, gums and nose may be dry. Testing how fast the skin returns after it is pulled up is another way to spot the problem. If the skin on the back of their neck does not spring back when let go, the dog might be dehydrated.

Well-meaning owners may not realize that walking a dog in the summer could cause severe injuries as the ground becomes extremely hot. On an 88-degree day, the asphalt can reach temperatures of 135 degrees causing the pads on the animals paws to easily burn and blister.

“Always put your hand down on the pavement and if you can’t hold it there without being comfortable, then it is too hot for your pet,” Dean suggested. “We suggest that if you do walk your dog you do it early in the morning or late in the evening.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — the Norfolk-based group commonly known as PETA — warns pet owners it takes only 15 minutes for a dog to sustain brain damage or die in a hot vehicle. Dean pointed out that every year dogs across the country die in hot cars during the heat of the summer. She added that no one should take their animal where it will need to be left in the vehicle for any amount of time.

“Parking under a tree and leaving the windows cracked will not help,” she warned. “Leaving your pet in a car is very dangerous. A dog, as they pant, all they are doing is taking hot air in their lungs and they quickly become overheated.”

She gave suggestions for what can be done if someone sees an animal in a hot car.

“If you see a dog in a car in a shopping center parking lot, make a note of the make, model, license plate and the color of the car and call 911 and give them all of that information and then go in and ask to speak with the manager.” Dean said that sometimes the store manager will make an announcement to alert the owner.

What should someone do if they suspect their dog is suffering from heat related illness?

“They shouldn’t have let it get to that point, but if the dog is suffering from heat stroke, veterinary care is an emergency situation,” stressed Dean. “We have been told by veterinarians to put cool towels on them and put cold water on the pads of their paws until they can get to the vet. When in doubt, take them to a veterinarian immediately.”

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