Dogs: Water can be a great tool for keeping pets cool while out in the heat but they shouldn’t be taken at all during the spike in temperatures. Emily Sawicki

General knowledge says that on hot days in LA, it’s best to get out on the trails in the early morning hours to beat the heat — especially if you’re bringing a four-legged companion. 

But with extreme temperatures already upon us in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, local experts have shifted to a simple message: leave Fido at home this time. Actually, maybe don’t go out at all.

“#HEATWAVE IS HERE. Very HOT in the Santa Monica Mtns today & through the Labor Day weekend,” Malibu Search and Rescue (SAR) tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “We strongly recommend that everyone avoid hiking, especially with pets.  Hiking in this [weather] threatens your health as well as the lives of 1st responders.”

Malibu SAR — a rescue team made up of volunteer reserve sheriff’s deputies based out of the Los Angeles County Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station — performs well over 100 rescues in the Santa Monica Mountains each year and also shares helpful information for hikers, drivers and other people who use the natural resources northwest of Santa Monica.

The National Weather Service, in a social media post, reported “stunning” overnight lows this week, with temperatures in the Santa Monica Mountains remaining in the mid-90s just after sunrise Thursday. Even on the coast in Santa Monica, overnight temperatures barely hit 70 on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, and with more heat expected over the weekend there is no longer a guarantee of an overnight cool-off — or, as NWS Los Angeles wrote, “The lack of overnight relief is one reason this #HeatWave [is] DANGEROUS.”

Malibu SAR Team Leader David Katz agreed, saying that, for the first time, his agency recommended a “blanket no-hike zone” for this weekend.

“There’s no good time right now, because in the morning in the Valley it’s running 80 to 85 degrees — as the air temperature. The ground temperature is usually 15 degrees hotter than the air temperature,” Katz said. “So, would you want to walk barefoot in the pavement or trail in that temperature? The obvious answer is no, but that’s what you’re asking your pet to do.”

Katz, who has been with Malibu SAR for more than 30 years, said he has participated in innumerable pet rescues, almost all of which go poorly — “Once the dog is in trouble, it’s a 90 to 95% chance that dog will pass away, regardless of the intervention.”

Many rescue agencies do not respond to calls for overheated pets, but Malibu SAR does. Katz said that in his experience, most people wait until their pet has been in distress for some time before calling 911 for an ailing pet and often cannot move their dog into shade and do not have enough water to cool their pet down. By then, the owner and pet are distressed.

“If the people are hiking, usually they’ve been hiking for hours and that means it’s going to take us a long time to get to them, and once the pet is in this kind of condition, they have to have immediate emergency room attention,” he said. “So the amount of time it takes to get to that pet is very distressing for us, it’s distressing for the owner and, unfortunately, we have a pretty good idea that the outcome is not going to be good.”

Small dogs, like terriers, can be scooped up and carried out, but larger breeds often require rescue baskets, which must be wheeled out at a fraction of human walking speed — as slow as a quarter the speed of a normal hiker.

Occasionally, Malibu SAR will attempt an airlift with a helicopter, which puts additional strain on search and rescue resources and puts rescuers at additional risk. Even in those scenarios, there is still a chance emergency pet hospitals may not accept the patient, due to ongoing burdens on veterinarians during COVID-19.

Katz said during a heatwave earlier this year, a German shepherd that collapsed on a trail was airlifted to the Sheriff’s Station, loaded into Katz’s car and driven to a hospital, only to be turned away at the door. After Katz, in Malibu SAR uniform, advocated for the dog to be seen, he was rushed in, but did not survive the grueling experience.

Despite these warnings, if you do find yourself out and about with your pooch in tow, Malibu SAR has shared some basic tips to make sure Fido stays healthy in the heat, starting with the general health of your pet. 

Strive to keep your pets fit and trim, which helps them stay cool in the summer and avoid heat-related maladies while out and about, or even just hanging out in the backyard on a hot day.

Provide “tons of extra water,” since pets “dehydrate very fast and can succumb to heat stroke within minutes,” SAR shared in a post during the latest heat wave earlier this year. Make sure your dog has a shady place to rest every time you take a break, and always be on the lookout for signs of heat stroke: excessive panting, a tongue that’s curling at its end, drooling, a dazed look, weakness, bright red eyes or gums, shaking or refusal to walk further. Other signs: vomiting, diarrhea and collapse. 

It may seem obvious, but pets can’t talk, and that means owners are responsible for monitoring their condition. If you notice these signs, act quickly. Cool down your dog with wet towels and fan them. If you can carry your dog out, try to get them to an air conditioned vehicle, and if you’re in a remote area, call 911, SAR said.

Animal advocacy organization spcaLA shared that if you notice your pet overheating and have access to a tub or pool, “immerse them slowly in cool water to lower their body temperature, then contact a veterinarian. Never immerse a pet in ice cold water, it may cause them shock.”

The organization also shared that dog paw pads burn easily — so avoid asphalt on hot days.

NWS Los Angeles, spcaLA and Malibu SAR emphasized that animals should never be left in vehicles on hot days. “Animals can die of heatstroke within 15 minutes, and cracking the car windows doesn’t help,” NWS wrote. “If you see a pet in an unattended vehicle, do not leave until the problem has been resolved!”

This last piece of guidance isn’t just vague advice — the California penal code prohibits people from confining animals in unattended vehicles under dangerous conditions, and allows passersby to step in if necessary.

“A person shall not leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal,” CA Penal Code 597.7 states. It goes on to say that, if doors are locked and it is not possible to access the distressed animal, breaking in can be allowed, so long as you have contacted emergency services and have “a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary.”

emily@smdp.com