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Waterford - As the warmer weather sets in, Waterford-East Lyme Animal Control Officer Robert Yuchniuk is reminding residents to leave their furry friends at home instead of in the car.
Leaving a dog in the car on a hot day is an offense punishable by law and police also have the right to take custody of the dog until the court case is resolved. Yuchniuk is sheltering a dog that was retrieved from a car by the Department of Environmental and Energy Protection last weekend at Rocky Neck State Park until he is notified by the court to return the dog to its owners.
"It's not about the windows being cracked. It's about the sunlight reflecting though the glass and dogs are wearing fur coats. They don't sweat like humans do, don't have the ability to have their sweat cool them down like we do," Yuchniuk said on Monday.
He said he receives about six calls a week during his regular shift but that the Waterford and East Lyme police department responds to more after he's left for the day.
In a town with many retail stores, he said he expects calls to increase as it gets warmer.
"You go into Wal-Mart to get one thing and you end up with a full shopping cart and you're there for 45 minutes and that's when we run into a problem," he said, "people think 'I'm running in for a minute,' and in 10 minutes, the temperature can get up to over 100 degrees if the car is in direct sunlight."
He does have tools to unlock a car door without having to break the window and is thankful for never having a dog die in a car on his watch.
When he responds to a call for a dog in a car he said has to assess the situation but "nine times out of 10" he gets there and the dog is not in distress.
He said there are multiple factors that could lead to an arrest for animal cruelty because the dog has been deprived of wholesome air.
"Before you can make the decision to arrest someone, is the temperature high enough, is the car in shade, is the window open enough, is there any water in the car for the dog to drink? How long has the dog been alone? Is the dog in distress, lethargic or having difficulty breathing? Those are all things that need to be considered," he said.
Sometimes, he said, people take matters into their own hands by smashing the car windows or confronting the dog's owner when they come outside.
"We prefer people to be our eyes and ears, not window smashers and yellers," he said.
He advised those who do see a dog in a car for an extended period on a hot day to call either the police or animal control in their town and to tell the dispatcher what they've observed and if the dog is in distress.
"Every summer we go through this," he said. "People get worked up and want to start breaking windows and saving dogs that don't often need to be saved in that manner."