Monday, June 25, 2007

Pet Protector to the Rescue

Dear owner: Please leave me at home. It gets really, really hot in the car. I don’t like it. Love, your loyal pet.

Does this look familiar? I hope not. If you’ve been the recipient of such a note, then you’re guilty of inflicting a cruelty no animal should be forced to suffer—being left in a parked car on a warm day.

Yes, I’m willing to admit that I am the local pet protector who secretly slides these notes under your windshield wiper. As you may have noticed, I always make sure that the writing faces the inside of the vehicle. That way, it can be easily read when you finally do return to your pet.

I am the person who advised the cashier at Chapters that you had left your headlights on. It was the tiniest of lies. I’d hoped that, after hearing the announcement, you would rush out, read my note, feel the appropriate amount of shame and vow never to leave your dog in the car again. Just to let you know, I waited 15 minutes before you returned. What were you thinking?

Many errant pet owners may claim they’re only making a quick dash into the grocery store. But you know how it is; a list of three items can soon turn into a cart full of food. The line-ups can seem excruciatingly long to the animal you’ve left in the stifling heat.

Just recently, I happened upon a policeman standing helplessly beside a parked car. A dog, its tongue dangling over its lower jaw, paced along the back seat. Interested bystanders lingered in front of the stores. The cop mumbled into his radio. Was he getting permission to break the window and rescue the animal? I sat in my own car (windows cranked open) and waited.

The sound of smashing glass was not to be. Instead, a harried woman, with two young children tugging on her arm, approached the car. At that moment, I envisioned her back at home, rounding up the kids, searching for her purse and shopping list before heading, breathless, out the door. The kids may have begged to bring Fido along with them. Overworked and tired, she gave in.

The cop spoke to her, the crowd dispersed, and I started my car and pulled away. I had mixed feelings about that particular episode. I could empathize with the woman but the fact remained—the dog could have died.

Even with the windows partially open, the temperature inside a car can reach 49 degrees Celsius within minutes. I often hear warnings on the radio and television advising pet owners about the dangers. And, still, people continue to invite their beloved canine friends along for the ride.

Last summer, unprepared, I would scribble my notes on any available scrap of paper—a bank receipt or a Starbucks serviette. This year, when the warm weather began to poke its way through the winter’s chill, I knew it was time to pull my pet protector cloak from the closet. Anticipating a rash of owners not heeding the media warnings, I’ve printed off 20 copies of the note (it’s true, this is becoming a bit of an obsession). I’ll stash the notes in my glove compartment and, hopefully, there will be some remaining when the weather eventually begins to cool.

No one’s ever caught me playing the crusader to these four-legged victims. I’m very careful. With the ease of a seasoned stalker, I stroll toward my target and, in a fluid motion, whisk the piece of paper into place. Seldom do the animals, usually dogs, make any kind of fuss. The odd time, I see the owners discover my note. It’s interesting to observe their suspicious and, sometimes, angry glances around the parking lot.

I’m not brave enough for a confrontation with the dog’s owner; I know how defensive I would get if someone questioned my ability to care for my pet. Most people love and treat their pets as an important member of the family. It’s understandable that, in a moment of weakness, owners give in to the pleading in their dog’s eyes as they pick up the car keys. This is one time that owners must say no. The animal will be much happier and safer in the home.

I will continue to protect the furry citizens in my town. I encourage everyone to be on the lookout for those black noses pressed through a sliver of open window, trying to catch a whisper of fresh air. Print your own notes (I always try to be as polite as possible). Make a difference. Save a life.

My essay, Pet Protector to the Rescue, first appeared in the Globe and Mail in July 2003.