Dog dies in hot car; Another rescued

A tiny dog died Tuesday after its owner left it in a hot car in the parking lot of a store in Cranston, the president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said.

"It was a Minton, it weighed 7 pounds. It was left in a car as a person was shopping at a Walmart. And when the owner came out, I believe he found his dog dead, or in dire straits, and proceeded to bring the dog to a veterinarian, and at that time, the dog was dead upon arrival," Dr. E.J. Finocchio said.

Gretchen Keefe of West Warwick said she wasn't about to watch a different dog, a pit bull she saw sitting in a car outside a supermarket in Warwick, suffer the same fate on Tuesday afternoon.

Keefe said the dog was left in a dark maroon Ford Explorer with the engine off, and two windows only slightly cracked. Keefe said the dog was hot and barking like crazy, but the owner was nowhere in sight.

A small group of concerned bystanders told supermarket managers and called police.

"After 20 minutes we were frustrated. The police hadn't shown up, and neither had the owner. Then somebody suggested seeing if the car was unlocked. So, I walked over to the car, to the front door, and it was unlocked. The dog's collar and the leash were right there in the middle (of the car).

So, I put the collar on the dog, and took him out of the car and we went and sat in front of the store in the shade, and then the store manager brought out a bottle of water," Keefe said.

Keefe said it was more than 30 minutes until the owner showed up.

Keefe said even then, the owner only came back to the vehicle after his mother stumbled upon the dog being cared for by the small group, and called her son, asking him to return to get the dog.

Keefe said she was appalled and disgusted with the way the dog owner reacted after he realized what she had done to save the animal.

"He was enraged with anger. He picked him up and pulled him out of my arms by the leash, and the dog was dangling up in the air, held only by the collar, and the collar was that spiked kind that cuts into the neck when you yank it, and he yelled at me, and said, 'He's not your property. He's fine in the car for 20 minutes.' And then he walked back to his car, and put the dog back in his car and went back into the shopping center," Keefe said.

Keefe, a part-time worker at an animal rescue center, was so upset that she decided to continue watching the dog in the vehicle to see how long the man would leave the pit bull in the car this time around.

Keefe said the dog owner was in the supermarket picking out groceries for about 15 minutes before he returned, loaded his car and drove to a nearby gas station.

"It was at that point that the police went over to where he was at the gas station to talk with him," she said.

Keefe said when she finally got a chance to speak with the Warwick police officer, she was told to be careful next time because could have been charged with breaking into the car.

"He said I could have been charged with breaking and entering with the car, which, I would be happy to accept those charges to save an animal that can't help itself," she said.

Finocchio said Keefe did the right thing by coming to the aid of the pit bull.

Finocchio described to NBC 10 an experiment he and his staff performed last summer on a 95-degree day.

"We parked a dark colored car in the parking lot and rolled the windows down for an hour. Then we rolled the windows up and placed a thermometer in the vehicle. Exactly 20 minutes later we checked the thermometer in the car, and it registered at 145 degrees, and that's only after 20 minutes," Finocchio said.

That's why the doctor said it's always best to "go with your gut" when it comes to living beings in hot cars.

"If you're a good Samaritan, or just a bystander and you see an animal, a child, an elderly person, anybody in a car and you go by and you feel in your heart that that animal or individual is in harm's way, I have no qualms with breaking a window, getting in there to rescue that person or animal. I have no qualms at all about that," Finocchio said.

According to Finocchio, the driver of the car that was parked outside of the Walmart store where the dog succumbed to the heat will be charged with animal cruelty. But Warwick police have decided not to charge the man who left the pit bull in the supermarket parking lot.