By Johnny Jackson
The phones started ringing as the Memorial Day Weekend kicked off, and the calls have been coming ever since, according to area animal care and control officials.
As near-record high temperatures climb into the mid-90s, some residents are leaving their pets locked inside steamy vehicles during the heat of the day.
"We've had two or three cases already of people leaving these animals in their cars," said Henry County Rabies Control Officer Vince Farah. "It could get up to 120 degrees, or 130 degrees [inside a car], on a 90-degree day."
The National Weather Service (NWS) reported area temperatures had reached into the mid-90s early Wednesday afternoon, with heat indices near 100 degrees. In contrast, NWS climate data revealed normal temperatures average in the low-to-mid 80s for this time of year in metro Atlanta.
Thursday's forecast calls for a 20 percent chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms, complementing otherwise mostly sunny skies. High temperatures are expected to be around 93 degrees with heat indices as high as 97 degrees. NWS' Seven-Day Forecast repeats those projections through next Tuesday, June 7.
"Any animal that is found to be locked in a vehicle that is in distress will be removed from that vehicle by whatever means [by animal care and control officials]," said Farah, citing Henry County Ordinance 09-01, Section 3-4-11.
Farah said officers from animal care and control are patrolling parking lots for animals that are left in vehicles. "We're keeping our eyes open for them," he warned. "We're not writing warnings, we're issuing citations for cruelty to animals."
Henry County Animal Care and Control Director Gerri Yoder advises residents to keep their pets at home, if their pets cannot be with them at all times. "If you are leaving your house to go somewhere and your pet can't go in wherever you're going, leave the dog at home," Yoder said. "I cannot emphasize enough, you cannot leave your dog in a car. No matter what the temperature is outside, there is no point in taking your pet, just to leave it in your car."
Yoder said a dog naturally has a higher body temperature than a person. She recommends -- as an added measure of protection for the dog's health -- that owners of dogs with heavy coats consider having their animals' coats groomed or shaved.
"Make sure that your pets have a constant source of clean, drinkable water at all times, and have adequate shelter from the heat," said the animal care and control director. "Make sure the water is in a shaded area, and the dog house is not sitting in the sun."
Yoder said residents should be mindful that as the weather heats up, so does activity among the native wildlife. She said people and animals are generally more active when the weather is warm. The possibility of having interactions between species increases, and so does the likelihood of rabies infection from wildlife, to humans or pets.
"We encourage people to make sure that their rabies vaccines are current," she said. "A yearly vaccine is required by law for dogs, ferrets, and cats."
Farah said human and/or pet contact with wildlife has already been reported. "We've tested a total of 20 animals so far this year -- a combination of two foxes, five raccoons, a bat, and six felines," said Farah.
The rabies control officer said the county has confirmed two positive cases of rabies in wildlife. One fox tested positive in the Stockbridge area, and one raccoon tested positive in the Fairview area.
"Wildlife are out roaming," Farah said. "You don't need to leave food outdoors. When you feed your pets, any excess food needs to be picked up."
Farah said residents may consider limiting their outdoor activities in order to minimize their potential exposure to rabies-infected wildlife.
Residents are encouraged to stay indoors as much as possible during times of near-record temperatures, according to Hayla Hall, risk communicator for the Georgia Department of Human Resources District 4 Health Services.
Hall said doing too much on a hot day, such as spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place, can lead to heat-related illness, like heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. It can cause death or permanent disability, if emergency treatment is not provided, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heat exhaustion is a milder illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures, and a person not consuming enough fluids.
The CDC points out several factors that affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.
The elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at greatest risk of a heat-related illness, according to the CDC. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat, if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.
Hall imparts this advise during these days of extreme heat: Stay indoors whenever possible; drink plenty of fluids; wear appropriate lightweight, light-colored clothing; schedule outdoor activities carefully, and never leave infants, children or pets in parked cars.
For more information on heat-related illness, visit www.cdc.gov.