Summer stress, sometimes deadly

So let’s all keep our cool this summer. Understand the limitations of Island life. And don’t leave Tamale panting in the car. Seriously.

Michelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at:

Yup. It’s summer. Here’s how I can tell. Over the last few days I have seen three panting dogs sitting in parked cars with the windows cracked. Several people have just shown up at my door with animals after hours and continued knocking until I answered. Others stop me at the grocery store and the beach for advice about everything from ticks and skunks to diarrhea and cataracts. Did I mention the three panting dogs in parked cars? So once again, here are some veterinary reminders for summer on the Vineyard.

Number one. I can’t believe I have to say this again. Don’t leave your dog in the car! Seriously, don’t you people ever go on Facebook? Even my rare forays into social media tell me that FB is plastered with posters about the dangers of hot cars. Do you think your dog is immune? I know, I know. You’re just running in for a minute. Uh-huh. Is there really such a thing as “running in for a minute” on the Vineyard in July? Have you seen the lines at the Black Dog counter?  It only takes a few minutes for a car to become an oven. Dogs who are older, overweight, pug-faced, and those with heart and respiratory problems are at greatest risk, but pets of all sizes and ages succumb to heat stroke.

I’m going to be blunt. There is simply no excuse for leaving your dog in the car in the summer. If Tamale, the terrier, has separation anxiety, talk to your vet about treatment. If you’re worried he might pee on the rental carpets, use a crate. If his potty schedule interferes with your tennis time, change your game. Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition that is completely avoidable. If Tamale cooks in the car, it is your fault. No excuses.

Heat stroke can also occur just being outside or from excessive exertion. Don’t take Tamale to the beach during the hottest part of the day. Most Island beaches don’t allow dogs during summer anyway. Check local regulations. If you do have access to a dog-friendly bit of shoreline, provide a water bowl and shade for Tamale.  Don’t let him bother wildlife or other visitors. If he poops, clean it up. That doesn’t mean burying it in the sand for the next toddlers with plastic shovels to discover or leaving it trailside in a plastic bag. Take that doggy bag home to the trash.

Don’t ask Tamale to run alongside your ten-mile noon bike ride. Remember: he doesn’t get to “coast.”  While you’re gliding downhill catching your breath and a breeze, Tamale is still running. If he is already fit, it may be okay to exercise during cooler hours, but plenty of vacationing dogs end up with heat exhaustion, injured joints, pulled muscles, or severely blistered feet from overdoing it. Dogs will run their hearts out to follow you. The fact that Tamale can run that far doesn’t mean he should.

Speaking of exhaustion, let’s talk veterinarians. If you’re not a year-rounder, you may not realize that a handful of small town veterinarians here goes from providing service to a local population of fewer than 20,000 people to five times that in summer. And, yes, many of those hundred thousand summer folks bring pets. Unlike New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or wherever you’re from, we have no 24-hour emergency clinics or referral specialty practices. The docs seeing patients all day are the same ones seeing emergencies all night.

If you come here often with a pet, establish a relationship with a local practice. Bring vaccination history and medical records, especially if Tamale has chronic problems. Learn the veterinarian’s office hours and emergency policy. No matter which practice you use, always telephone first. Please, don’t just show up unannounced. This is for your benefit as well as ours. Many local practices are small. There is no guarantee a doctor will be available if you arrive without notice. They might be on a farm treating a colicky horse or in surgery spaying a dog. It might even be the doctor’s day off and some practices only provide emergency care for regular clients. Call first.

After hours, most Island veterinarians forward their calls to an answering service. You may hear one short ring, then a long pause. Don’t hang up. That’s your call being transferred. It will ring again momentarily. Since my practice is home-based, I often hear people call five or six times in a row, hanging up during that pause instead of waiting for the call to forward. You won’t reach anyone that way. Be patient. After it forwards successfully, let it ring. Answering services try their best but sometimes take a while to pick up. Once you get through, make sure you leave the correct phone number, then stay off the phone so the doctor can get through. Make sure your ringer is on. If you don’t hear back within 20 minutes, call again. This all sounds obvious, but I can’t tell you how often one of these necessary steps eludes an owner seeking emergency veterinary care.

Although we do our best to take care of Tamale’s medical needs, if round-the-clock care, elaborate diagnostics, or specialized surgery or treatments are indicated, be prepared to go off Island. Don’t blame the local docs. You don’t expect your family physician to perform appendectomies or MRIs right in her office, right? We won’t always have the necessary equipment, staff, or specialty skills. What we can do is help with referral and travel information — the ferry, the Patriot boat, taxis on the mainland. A few owners have even chartered small planes. Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists in Buzzards Bay have a van that in certain situations may be able to meet you right in Woods Hole.

So let’s all keep our cool this summer. Understand the limitations of Island life. Reserve after-hours calls for true emergencies. Always phone ahead. And don’t leave Tamale panting in the car. Seriously.