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Simple steps can prevent a tragedy


As you read this column:

* A veterinarian is struggling to save a pet from a disease that could have been prevented with an inexpensive vaccine.

* A pet lover is scanning the "found" ads in this paper, wishing she'd put a tag on her cat's collar.

* Someone has left a dog in the car "for a quick minute or two." The animal is panting anxiously as the temperature starts to rise.

What could be simpler than vaccinating a pet, putting tags on a collar or leaving an animal at home on a warm day? This is simple, sensible preventive care, yet before you finish reading this column, one of those animals will die.

Last week, it was two roly-poly Lab-mix puppies, and the woman who told me the story will never forget it: "I'm still having nightmares," she said.

"I was coming out of a flea market when I noticed them in the car. Someone had been giving puppies away inside, and the owner of the car took two of them, put them in the car and went back in.

"I knew the puppies were in desperate trouble. They were dying.

"Someone went to get the owner while we struggled to unlock the car, but by the time we got to the puppies, there wasn't much anyone could do. They were still alive, but they were -- there's no easy way to say this -- pretty much cooked. We held them under running water but

it was obvious they weren't going to make it."

The caller paused, collecting her emotions as much as her thoughts.

"I'm still having nightmares," she repeated. "I can hardly talk about this, but people need to know so that just maybe this won't happen again. Or at least one animal will be saved from a similar death."

I hope so, too. But I know that although the caller was furious at the person who left the dogs in the car, there was one other person who had a hand in this tragedy. There are two wrongs in this tale, and that fact that they were both likely accidental doesn't mean much to those puppies, or the other animals that will suffer a similar fate.

The first wrong is the obvious one. Even a pleasantly warm 75- to 80-degree day can turn a car into a death trap for a pet. It doesn't take long for the temperature to soar to well over 120 degrees, and not much longer for a pet to start suffering.

It doesn't do any good to rely on cracked windows or parking in shade. A cracked window does little to prevent heat build-up, and a car left in the shade can be in full sunlight a short time later.

It's easy to prevent this kind of accident: Leave pets at home when running errands in a car. A bonus: It likewise protects them from thieves.

The second wrong is perhaps not so obvious. What kind of animal lover allows a pet to breed, then hands the offspring to anyone who wants one at a flea market? As part of the larger picture, those puppies are just two more victims of the pet overpopulation problem, another preventable situation that will claim millions of pets nationwide every year.

If your pet isn't spayed or neutered, you are part of that problem. And there's no reason to be. Your pet will be a better companion and will be more likely to live a longer, healthier life after the surgery. And you can sleep at night without worrying about the animals you allowed into this world. Next month, when "kitten season" peaks at the shelters, whole litters will be taken straight from the front counter to the euthanasia room.

Talk about nightmares! Call your vet and make that appointment today -- and while you're at it, make sure your pet's vaccinations are current. And order a tag for that collar.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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