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Carer found guilty of leaving dog unattended in car on ‘scorching’ summer day

Hazel Donald leaves Aberdeen Sheriff Court. Inset: Biggie

A carer has escaped punishment after being found guilty of leaving her dog unattended in a car on a “scorching” hot July day.

Hazel Donald was convicted of “failing to provide a suitable environment” for Biggie, her Johnson American Bulldog.

The 54-year-old left him unattended in her vehicle in direct sunlight, with inadequate ventilation and hydration, and no means of escape, exposing him to “excessive temperatures”.

Biggie, who has since passed away unrelated to the incident, was rescued when police spotted him and traced Donald.

She had denied the offence, which happened on Golf Crescent, Inverurie, on July 26 2019, but following a trial at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, Sheriff Morag McLaughlin found her guilty.

During the trial, the court heard Donald had been in the area for her job as a support worker.

She had taken Biggie with her as the woman she was providing support to enjoyed playing with him and taking him for walks.

Windows opened and bowl of water left with pet

However, around 3pm police had to be called due to the woman becoming distressed.

Giving evidence, Donald told the court that she had not wanted Biggie to be in the house when police arrived due to a previous incident, and so elected to put him in her car.

Donald said she first took him for a walk for 15- 20 minutes while leaving the air conditioning running in her car, and then put him in the vehicle with all four windows open, a cool gel pad and a bowl of water.

However, when police officers noticed the dog they found the water container was empty.

Hazel Donald leaving Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

Defence agent Jennifer Pritchard asked her client: “Are you able to tell me why there was nothing in it?”

Donald replied: “I presume when police came to the car Biggie jumped and spilt it. My seats were soaking wet.”

Although police were concerned enough to stop and trace Donald, Biggie did not require any medical treatment.

Under questioning from fiscal depute Carol Gammie, Donald accepted Biggie had been unattended in the car for at least 25 minutes, that the car was in direct sunlight, and that it was a hot day.

In police bodycam footage played to the court, the temperature shown on the police van’s dashboard was 28C, although parties were unable to establish whether this was the temperature inside or outside the vehicle.

Dogs left in hot cars can suffer from heat exhaustion

Ms Gammie asked Donald why she hadn’t simply tied Biggie up in the shade in the garden when police were called. Donald replied: “I don’t like dogs tied up.”

The fiscal retorted: “Surely that’s preferable to putting a dog in a car on a very hot day for half an hour.”

Donald said: “I didn’t think it would take that long.”

Evidence was also given by the police officers, who described the weather as “roasting” and spoke to seeing “heavy panting” and “distress” from Biggie.

Alison Simpson, an SSPCA chief inspector, also gave evidence having been shown the police bodycam footage of Biggie.

She said: “I appreciate the windows are open, however, if there’s no breeze there’s no air going through the vehicle.”

Asked what a dog panting might indicate, she replied: “It would indicate it was hot and trying to cool itself down.”

‘The dog shouldn’t have been in the car at all’

Asked what her advice would be in the circumstances of this case, Mrs Simpson said: “The dog just simply shouldn’t have been in the car.

“We give advice on this quite a lot in hot weather.

“At 28C a dog shouldn’t be left in a car at all.”

Ms Pritchard told her there was uncertainty over 28C temperature.

Ms Simpson said: “If the temperature was 20C and above I’d have concerns about the dog being there for 20 minutes.”

Sheriff McLaughlin said: “The offence is not one that suggests the dog in any way was suffering.

“The offence here in one which charges that Mrs Donald didn’t take such steps as were reasonable to ensure the needs of the animal were met.”

She went on: “Whether it was 28C or not, it was a scorching day.

“We’ve heard evidence from an expert witness that on a hot day the dog shouldn’t have been in the car at all.”

‘It’s clear you cared for your dog’

The sheriff found Donald guilty of the charge, but said it was at the “lower end of seriousness”, and that it was not planned or premeditated.

Addressing Donald, of Duncan Terrace, Udny Station, she added: “I think you were in a really difficult circumstance that day.

“It’s clear you were someone who cared for your dog and did what you could to ensure its safety.”

She admonished Donald, meaning the conviction goes on her record, but she does not face any additional punishment.

Following the case, Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn reminded dog owners of the dangers of leaving their pets in the car in the heat.

He said: “It only takes a few minutes for a dog to overheat in a hot vehicle and leaving a window open or a bowl of water simply is not good enough. Our message is simple – don’t risk it. 22C outside can mean 44C inside the car.

“If someone witnesses a dog inside a car on a hot day, contact 999 immediately.

“Anyone with concerns about the welfare of an animal should contact the Scottish SPCA’s animal helpline on 03000 999 999.”