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Activists warn of danger posed by leaving children, pets in hot cars

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The first three-day weekend of the summer is looming. Many people will be taking their children and pets on road trips or simply to a nearby park for some fun.

But a group of child and animal advocates say that fun could become a tragedy if a child or pet is left in a hot car. The group gathered Thursday at the SPCA Tampa Bay to warn of the potential dangers to humans and animals.

It’s a tragedy, they said, that many think “could never happen to me” but one that, in reality, happens all too often, they said.

“Nationally, every 10 days a child dies from being left in a hot car,” said Lisa Mayrose, regional managing director for the Suncoast Region of the Department of Children and Families. “So far this year, we’ve tragically lost eight children in this country. One (was) in Florida.”

In many cases, the problem happens because the parent is distracted and simply forgets the child is in the car.

“Every parent is distracted at some point,” said Charlene Cobb, community outreach coordinator with Sunstar Paramedics and chair of the Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition. “Parents and caregivers should realize that this situation could happen to anyone.”

Cobb offered tips so parents will be less likely to forget a child is in the back seat:

*Download a smartphone app to help you remember that your child is in the car. Some apps have GPS trackers that trigger alarms when a car stops moving.

*Use a tactile reminder — like a rubber key chain on the driver’s side door handle — as a reminder that the child is in the car.

*Put something in the back seat, such as your cellphone, purse or briefcase, or even your left shoe. This will give you a reason to check the back of the car before getting out.

Pets are also vulnerable, said Doug Brightwell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services. Some pet owners believe it’s OK to leave an animal in a car if the window is cracked. But that’s not true, he said. A cracked window may cool the car a few degrees but it isn’t enough to keep a pet — or child — from succumbing to heat stroke.

Martha Boden, CEO of the SPCA Tampa Bay, said the best way to make sure your pet isn’t affected is to leave him at home. Even a short hop to the grocery store can turn into a longer errand. If you have to take your pet and leave him in the car, leave the car running with the air conditioner on, she said.

“If you see a child or pet in a parked car, call 9-1-1 immediately,” Boden said. “Don’t wait. It can be the difference between life and death.”

Boden noted that Florida has a new law protecting “hot car heroes” who try to save children or pets that are in cars. Under the law, the good Samaritan can try to open the doors to let the child or pet out. If the doors are locked, the rescuer can break the window and immediately contact 9-1-1 without fear of penalty.

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