After recent dog death, Rifle officer urges people to leave pets at home, not in cars

Signs on Third Street in downtown Rifle remind people of the dangers of leaving dogs in parked vehicles during the summer in Western Colorado.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent

For Rifle Police Officer Dawn Neely, who handles animal control for the department, checking the animal logs for any new reports is a daily ritual.

After police received a 911 call recently from a sobbing individual reporting a dog was locked in a vehicle and it was deceased, an officer responded and tried to assist. But it was already too late.

Neely, who was off duty at the time of the incident, said upon reading the report it really got to her, so she turned to the Rifle Police Department Facebook page to educate the community.

She thought maybe giving a little more information on the story would get to other people and motivate them to share with others.

As of Tuesday, the post had more than 500 comments and 4,000 shares.

“The whole reason I released that much information was really to get the point across,” Neely said. “I didn’t realize it would quite get to this level.”

Besides what Officer Neely wrote on the Thursday, July 4, post, she cannot comment any further on the incident that occurred because it is an open active case that Rifle Police Department is still investigating.

As of Tuesday, no arrests had been made.


Officer Neely said she responds to 40-45 calls on average every summer about animals left in vehicles.

With more than six years experience, Neely, who worked as a veterinarian’s technician, said she knows what to look for.

“You always want to look at the whole picture,” she said. “We have to look at the full information, what is the outside temperature, what is the inside temperature if we can get it, and what is the dog doing.

“It’s really what the dog is doing that’s going to give us the clearer picture of whether that animal is in distress or not,” Neely said.

She said it’s a combination of contributing factors that make leaving your animal in a parked car dangerous.

She said you have to look at temperature and humidity, plus the age and condition of the animal. A mature adult dog has more tolerance for high heat and different conditions than a really young or old animal, or especially a sick animal, Neely said.

“Based on my training and experience, if I feel like a dog is in immanent danger I have to remove that dog. But it has to meet that standard before I can do anything,” she said. “The message I would like to get across is to leave your dog safely at home.”

Neely reiterated that if people see a pet in a car and it’s on a hot day, anything over 70 degrees, they should call their local authorities.

Officer Neely said the second thing she wants people to take note of is the license plate, make, model and color of car for identification reasons. If they can, the reporting party should stay on scene; or, if there is more than one person on scene, go to the nearest business and have the car owner paged.

Officer Neely had an incident recently at the Rifle Library when an individual became upset when told his dog was in danger, and didn’t believe her until he witnessed the officer using a laser thermometer on the interior of the vehicle.

“He had his windows rolled down and was parked mostly in the shade, when I arrived on scene,” she said. “It was 85 degrees outside, and when I pointed it around to the shaded parts of the vehicle it was 101.4,” she said.

After making contact with the owner and removing the dog from the vehicle, she checked the interior temperature again and it had risen to 105.9 degrees.

“Your dog likes to go when you’re going on an air-conditioned car ride, or when you’re going to the river or on a hike,” Neely said. “Your dog does not like to be left in 105.9 degrees for however long — that’s not what your dog signed up for.

“Your dog wants to go for the fun, comfortable things, it doesn’t want to be cooked — have a better plan.”

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