Carla Cheney, a former Walmart employee from Kemptville, Canada, claims she was fired for alerting a customer that he shouldn't leave his dog in a hot car.
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On Wednesday, shortly before beginning her shift, Cheney saw the customer put his Newfoundland—a large breed with a heavy black coat—in his truck and roll up the windows, reports the Ottawa Citizen. Cheney, who worked in the Walmart pharmacy, called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and later confronted the dog owner after he left the store, telling him that "he should not be leaving his dog in the car." He responded that it was none of her business.
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Later that day, Cheney was called into her the office of her manager to whom, she told CBC News, she had mentioned another dog being left in a car the previous week. "I was pretty upset and I said to [him], 'What do I do?' He said it was none of our business and went into the store." In this case, her manager said she should come to him directly with any problems in the future. Cheney said she didn't agree with that policy. "So I [told him] if I did see something unsafe, that I would just go to the police if I thought it was necessary." The manager then told her she was fired and she should gather her things and leave the building. According to reports, another employee, Sean Dhaliwal, was also fired in late June from the same Walmart for warning a customer against leaving a dog in his van.
On Thursday afternoon, Walmart Canada posted a release on its Facebook page denying that Cheney was fired for "trying to help a dog in a locked car." It continues, "The decision to dismiss an associate is one that we take extremely seriously and must follow a comprehensive process. However, out of respect for the associate and for privacy reasons we cannot provide specifics about why this associate was let go." The release also claims that the manager did speak to the customer about the dog and adds, "Walmart is a major supporter and advocate for animal rights. Over the past year alone we have made donations to local SPCAs, the Humane Society and Animal Shelters. In addition, signs will be added to the front of all our stores across the country to advise customers of the dangers of leaving kids and pets in a hot car."
It's an issue that many animal lovers feel strongly about. On Wednesday, Cheney supporters started a Facebook page called Animal Rights for Kemptville Walmart, which already has more than 7,000 members. Shine hasn't been able to reach her for comment, but on Thursday she posted, "Thank you all for your support!! I am currently trying to find a lawyer to help me with all of this. I am feeling very overwhelmed by all the thoughtful words. Bless you all!!!" There is also a petition on Change.org to demand that Walmart train its employees on how to report dogs and children left in cars. In less than 24 hours it has received nearly 1,500 signatures.
It may take days or weeks to sort out the facts behind Cheney's claims against Walmart, but what we do know for sure is that leaving a dog—or a child—in a parked car is extremely perilous. So far in 2013, at least 20 children have died of heatstroke from being in left unattended in a motor vehicle.
Some estimates put the number of dogs that die each year from being left in a hot car in the thousands.
"Many people do not realize how quickly cars heat up, people think its OK to leave your dog in a car for just a few minutes," Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, told Yahoo! Shine. Murray, who is also a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine, says cracking the windows won't make a difference, and the vehicle can also become dangerously hot on an overcast day.
According to Petfinder, on a day when it's about 70 degrees, the temperature inside a parked car can rise 40 degrees in an hour—mostly during the first 30 minutes. And it may not matter if the windows are cracked or the car is in the shade. The Chicago Tribune reports that on an 85-degree day, the dashboard can heat up to 170 degrees in a mere 15 minutes.
Last summer, Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian, conducted an experiment that he videoed and posted on YouTube. He sat in a parked car with the windows cracked to a little more than an inch for 30 minutes on a 94-degree day. After five minutes, the temperature had reached 100 degrees. In 15 minutes, it was 110 degrees. After 30 minutes, the doctor felt ill and was covered in sweat, and the car's interior temperature had hit 117 degrees.
But dogs don't perspire like humans—which is one of the reasons why they can succumb to heatstroke in a matter of minutes. The Maryland-based Partnership for Animal Welfare explains on its website,"Dogs cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paws. If they have only overheated air to breathe, animals can collapse, suffer brain damage and possibly die of heatstroke. Just 15 minutes can be enough for an animal's body temperature to climb from a normal 102.5 to deadly levels that will damage the nervous and cardiovascular systems, often leaving the animal comatose, dehydrated and at risk of permanent impairment or death."
While the laws in the United States vary, given the health risks of parked vehicles, most allow peace officers and animal enforcement agents to break into cars in order to rescue a dog. Fourteen states specifically prohibit leaving an unattended pet in a car at all.
If you do see a dog left in a car, especially during the warmer months, the ASPCA recommends calling 911 or your local animal control immediately. If you suspect the owner is in a nearby store, alert the manager as well.
For pet owners, do Fido a favor: Leave your dog at home. While you may think he's better off doing errands with you, the quick stop at the coffee shop can turn deadly when you get a phone call or are stuck in line. Don't be your "best friend's" worst enemy.