June 24, 2017: Vehicular heatstroke in dogs: a case of cognitive error. International Society for Anthrozoology Conference. Davis, CA.
Abstract: Leaving dogs inside vehicles during hot weather can cause them to suffer from heatstroke, which is often fatal. While public campaigns have raised awareness of this issue, incidences continue to occur. An analysis of over 200 media reports of occurrences of fatal vehicular heatstroke in dogs revealed that the dog owners involved differ from those that carry out other kinds of animal abuse. They are frequently experienced and highly-bonded dog owners or in dog-related professions, but nevertheless chose to leave their dog in a high risk situation (high temperature, extended time periods). Publicity campaigns around leaving dogs in cars have to date have emphasized the suffering caused to the dog, including reporting of how temperatures can increase in parked cars; videos of people reacting to the heat in a parked car; graphic images and videos comparisons of a parked car to an oven; and public shaming via social media. These campaigns have had good penetration and their major messages are well-known in the dog owning community and may already have significantly reduced the incidence of at risk behavior. The authors include a psychologist and communications expert who developed profiles of the types of people, dogs, and situations implicated in recent fatal canine vehicular heatstroke events. They identified a mismatch between the likely motivations of these offenders and the fear/threat-based publicity campaigns currently used to discourage this behavior. A theoretical framework was drawn from “Protection Motivation theory” and its application in other situations where the more experienced and competent people in a target population are paradoxically exposed a greater risk of adverse events. Evidence from a range of public health campaigns shows that messaging emphasizing the severity of the adverse event may be rejected, while increasing the perception of the probability of that event and the efficacy of a protective response is more likely to motivate people to adopt safer behavior patterns.