The District Attorney’s Office, police and the Peninsula Humane Society are warning pet owners of the emotional trauma and legal ramifications of leaving animals locked up during a hot day.
Elisha, an 8-year-old German shepherd, died Monday morning after her owner left her locked in his car, Belmont police Capt. Pat Halleran said.
Even a half hour after being removed from the car, Elisha’s temperature was nearly 110 degrees, PHS spokesman Scott Delucchi said.
Joseph Regis, the dog’s 50-year-old owner, was found sleeping in a nearby motel room and charged with felony animal cruelty, Halleran said.
“Because it was so egregious and because he had apparently told us that he’d done this before, that’s why we went for the felony charge (instead of a misdemeanor),” Halleran said. “Aside from just the emotional factor that’s involved that you can’t help, especially if you have pets, is the same thing could happened to a child … It’s serious when you’re taking care of another life, whether it’s a dog or a person.”
Police found Elisha panting inside Regis’ truck with no water and the windows rolled up around 10:30 a.m. outside a motel on the 1100 block of Shoreway Road in Belmont, Halleran said. Regis stated he hadn’t checked on her since 3 a.m. and had left her in the car before, Halleran said.
Delucchi said animal control officers arrived shortly after and rushed Elisha to a shelter. Yet despite their efforts, Elisha died soon after, Delucchi said.
Halleran and Delucchi warn even if it’s 80 degrees outside, a car with its windows shut can heat into the hundreds in a matter of minutes.
Regis’ car was 85 degrees inside after the doors had been left open for a while, Delucchi said. But after closing them and waiting five or six minutes, it hit 100 degrees, Delucchi said.
The car was unlocked, however Delucchi and Halleran said officers would break windows to get to an animal in danger.
Considerations for determining if cruelty cases should be misdemeanors or felonies are usually based on intent or the extent of suffering an animal experienced, Delucchi said.
Although Belmont police arrested Regis on a felony charge, the district attorney will eventually determine with what he’s charged.
“We certainly prosecute lots of animal abuse cases, but the bigger issue is whether it should be a felony or a misdemeanor,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. “When it comes to an animal, when it hits a point that a reasonable person would know you’re exposing the animal to serious harm or death. … You don’t have to intend it to occur, you could just be forgetful.”
Wagstaffe said a life is a life, but he actually sees more cases of children being locked in hot cars.
Delucchi said he can only recollect one other similar incident about seven or eight years back when a dog perished after being locked in a man’s car who was gambling at Artichoke Joe’s in San Bruno.
Pet owners should adhere to their responsibilities during hot weather and it’s important to look for signs of dehydration like excessive panting, Delucchi said. People should also exercise pets early in the morning or evening when it’s cooler outside and remember that animals don’t need to eat as much when it’s hot as they’re not as active, Delucchi said.
“We want people to make their pets part of the family and do everything with their pets, but when the weather’s like this, just leave them at home,” Delucchi said. “We believe a pet is a part of the family and you make accommodations and take different things into consideration when you take on that responsibility. It’s a big responsibility.”
Although it’s important for people to be the eyes and ears of pets and look out for those they think are in danger, seeing a dog in a car doesn’t always warrant concern, Delucchi said. An owner may have just run into a store and left their pet with water and the windows rolled down, Delucchi said.
Wagstaffe said he has a prosecutor who’s been well trained and focuses animal cruelty cases.
“Because they’re important cases in our community, because people get excited about these cases, and appropriately so,” Wagstaffe said.
Delucchi said cases such as these are never easy, but animal lovers have the support of the humane society, police and the District Attorney’s Office on their side.
“Losing an animal in any circumstance is difficult … it’s upsetting and tragic,” Delucchi said. “But I think residents here in San Mateo County can take some comfort that we have a district attorney that does take these cases seriously. And that’s not the case in every community.”
Regis was released on $50,000 bail Tuesday morning, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. His court date was not immediately available.
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