Hot dogs and cool heads

The RSPCA should stop hounding us with advice on how to avoid cooking our pets.

Sandy Starr

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Topics Politics

Even when the ‘silly season’ coincides with Britain’s hottest-ever weather, it is impossible to fill all of the news with the dangers that the summertime apparently poses to people. So some have resorted to the next best alternative – publicising the seasonal dangers for animals.

The techniques used to cool down zoo animals have been reported in painstaking detail. We have been told how at London, Colchester and Newquay Zoos, animals have been fed their favourite flavoured ice lollies (fish for penguins, rosemary and blood for lions and tigers, fruit for monkeys and sloth bears), have been covered in sun cream, given mud baths, and – stop the press – sprayed with water (1).

Pet owners have been given stern advice by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) not to leave their pets in cars in the hot weather, for fear that they will be ‘literally cooked to death’. You might think that whether or not to leave your pet in a car, in any given weather, is a matter for individuals’ common sense – but the RSPCA doesn’t have a very high opinion of our common sense. ‘Even if you park your car in the shade’, it warns, ‘the position of the sun will change’ (2).

The collapse from heat exhaustion of a dog called Feathers in Wales has given added weight to the RSPCA’s campaign. People have been advised to put sun cream on their pets’ ears and noses (3). The clamour to get people to plaster themselves with sun cream for fear of developing skin cancer is bad enough (see Sun spots, by Josie Appleton), but to suggest that we should start applying it to our pets too is just ridiculous. How many people do you know who smear factor 15 on Tiddles whenever she pops out of the catflap?

The Automobile Association (AA) has gone one better than the RSPCA, with a press campaign advising motorists ‘not to mistakenly lock their children and pets in cars’, on the grounds that ‘locking a child in a car at this time of year, with a heatwave upon us, can be very distressing, and for pets, potentially lethal’ (4). While it’s a safe bet that people who mistakenly lock children and pets in cars and can’t get them out appreciate the AA’s assistance, it’s also a safe bet that people already know that leaving children and pets in cars is a bad idea.

The supermarket chain Safeway has launched ‘Operation Hot-Dog’ in 400 of its car parks, an initiative that involves ‘the car park trolley collection staff operating car park patrols, which will run continuously through the day as long as the heatwave lasts. If they spot a pet in the car, they will alert the customer services team immediately within the store and a tannoy announcement will be made requesting the owner of the car return to their vehicle’. Asda too has reportedly launched ‘pooch patrols’ in its car parks (5).

It may be courtesy for supermarkets to contact customers, if the trolley staff happen to find a pet wilting inside a car. But it’s a bit presumptuous for supermarkets to mount campaigns based around their customers’ supposed inability to look after their pets.

The focus on the potential risks to adult, child or animal health posed by hot weather does nobody any good. It fails to give us credit for having any common sense, and prevents us from ever fully relaxing in the sunshine. You’re left wondering how those in warmer climes ever manage to raise children or keep pets, without the help of animal welfare campaigns or caring supermarkets.

‘Where do you draw the line between sensible precautions and irrational panic?’ asked a recent Guardian article about looking after pets, its author evidently bewildered by the recent litany of safety advice. ‘The tricky thing is finding a balance between protecting our pets and making their lives as dull as ditchwater.’ (6) Actually, the tricky thing is remembering that we’re quite capable of coping in hot weather by ourselves, without barbecuing our cats, dogs and kids.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sun, sea and scaremongering

(1) Ice lollies help zoos overcome heatwave, Ananova, 5 August 2003; Penguins get ice lollies, Nicola Scevola, Reuters, 6 August 2003

(2) Don’t leave dogs in cars, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

(3) Warnings after dog rescue, BBC News, 11 August 2003

(4) Lock up your kids…but, please, don’t lose the key!, AA, 4 August 2003

(5) Safeway launches ‘hot dog’ patrols in supermarket car parks, Safeway, 7 August 2003; 10 things we didn’t know this time last week, BBC News, 8 August 2003

(6) Taking care of kitty, Justine Hankins, Guardian, 19 July 2003

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Politics

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