MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - An unusual sight is taking people by surprise in a handful of Myrtle Beach parking lots, and now it has many thinking twice about locking their pets in a hot car.
Myrtle Beach Animal Control has launched a public awareness initiative to bring attention to what they call a common problem in the area.
"We decided to park a car with a decoy dog in it [and] a thermometer in it to tell how hot it is inside of the car," Myrtle Beach Animal Control Officer Steven Trott said.
We caught several people doing a double-take in the parking lot of Target on Seaboard Street in Myrtle Beach when they walked past the car just before noon. Many were surprised when they saw the temperature inside topping 102 degrees.
"I came over and saw 'Heat Kills Pets' and saw the dog at the steering wheel.. complete opposite emotion," Dolly Mott said.
"Animals, really, are like people's children," Sarah Pelot added. "You wouldn't leave your children in your car, so why leave your dog in your car?"
But Trott says it happens, and those reports make up 25 percent of the calls Myrtle Beach Animal Control has responded to this summer. It's a battle against time to save pets in distress.
Not every call, though, has a happy ending.
"When the dog starts to go into heat stroke, he'll start salivating a lot. He'll get disoriented," Trott explained, when asked what happens to your dog when it's in a hot vehicle for a prolonged period of time. "He'll start panting very heavily. Then he'll pass out and almost start to seize."
When a dog starts to go into heat stroke, that's when Trott says it's almost always too late.
"[The owners] are shocked. They don't realize for one - it's against the law - and also some of them don't realize what they're causing for their pet."
Sandy Brown says she sees handfuls of pets in heat distress come through the doors of the Grand Strand Humane Society each summer. It's the first place Myrtle Beach Animal Control brings an animal after being rescued.
That emergency care, though, isn't cheap and is strapping the shelter thin. Brown says cooling a dog down that's in good condition can cost as little as $30. However, in the most severe cases, giving animals medications to help decrease the size of its brain costs hundreds of dollars.
Brown hopes Myrtle Beach's new animal awareness blitz will make you think twice the next time you leave your pet in the car for "just a few minutes."
If it doesn't, Trott says the consequences will.
"It can be 70 degrees outside and 90 degrees inside the car, and you could lose your dog's life," he said.
If you're caught leaving an animal in a hot car, you could face up to $1,092 in fines and/or 30 days in jail.
"The people that are apologetic usually learn their lessons with a citation," Trott said. "Unfortunately, I'd say those who are less than ignorant about the situation, they tend to have a harsher outcome with the dog."