This cautionary tale explains how jogging in the dog days of summer may pose little threat to acclimated humans, but could be a grim fate for animals.
Summer 2023 in Texas has been an exceptional hot one, with temperatures exceeding 105-degrees most days. As a fitness professional, I am accustomed to moving outdoors. Plus, with the great genetic fortune of being a big sweater, my body cools itself proficiently. I have to give the devil his due and say that even though the heat has been excessive, the humidity has been far less than typical Texas summers. With high heats but low humidity, I can survive and thrive on afternoon runs.
Selfie after 105-degree run at Garey Park
But I have a dog. A big dog. I have a dog as large as a Shetland pony. Meet Ernie.
Ernie chillin' out, maxin', relaxin' with his brother and sister
Ernie gets his name from the Sesame Street characters Bert & Ernie. We had a tuxedo cat named Bert prior to fostering-to-adopt Ernie earlier this year. Now, our family is complete with two kids, Bert and Ernie, my husband and me.
But we almost lost Ernie last Saturday.
Ernie's favorite place (mine, too) is a private park across the street from our house. This park is so serene, in fact, that one of the deciding factors in my family deciding to purchase and make this house our home is its proximity to Garey Park.
Ernie at Garey Park, TX, his little slice of heaven (and mine, too)
There are 6-miles of equestrian trails that meander through Garey Park. Ernie loves to trek these trails. But the problem is that Ernie outweighs me by about 40-pounds of sheer muscle and puppy energy. When he sees another dog, he drags me around like a cartoon. Well-intended dog-lovers recommend various harnesses and collars to us. We have tried them. We currently use a chest harness. It's not worthless, but whatever the kissing cousin is to "worthless," it's that. He's young, strong, and determined. There is no holding him back.
Ernie at the ballgame
In this picture, I had brought Ernie with me to a baseball game. He saw another dog and drug me out of this chair and on my belly, sleigh style, ripping through the grass as he bolted toward the other dog.
I got an idea.
After several days of running at Garey Park in the afternoons in July and August, I noticed that no one else is ever there. Not a soul. If I were to take Ernie with me then, we wouldn't have to worry about a run-in with another dog, human, or anyone for that matter. I loaded him up in the car and we went to Garey Park for a little jog at 4pm. We were there about 20-minutes. By the time we left, Ernie was hot, wet to the touch from sweat, drooling massively, and had foam under his mouth from the saliva. He refused water.
Turns out, refusing to drink water is an early sign of a heat stroke. I put him in the car and blasted the air conditioner. When I got home, I put ice cold towels on him and ice pack under the tops of each of his legs. I pulled a massive fan indoors from my garage gym and cranked it on high on him. I took his rectal temperature (to take a dog's rectal temp, just put a little petroleum jelly on a thermometer and gently insert it into his/her rectum). His temperature was 105-degrees and he still wouldn't drink water. His condition wasn't getting better, even though he was now in the cold house. The kids and I tried to coddle him through it with lots of petting, love, and affection, but you cannot love a dog out of a heat stroke. He got up on wobbly (very wobbly) legs and tried to go to another room. I fret that he knew he was dying and was looking for a private spot to pass. Time was of the essence. He didn't need any more D.I.Y. remedies for his condition. He needed a vet E.R. and fast!
TRAPRS, an Austin non-profit animal rescue organization, was hugely helpful in this process. When I say that "I" put cold towels and ice packets in Ernie's sweat glands, took his temperature, etc, I only knew to do that because I instinctively called Caitlin Elizabeth, a volunteer with TRAPRS, for guidance. This wonderful organization brought us Ernie in the first place. It can be said that TRAPRS rescued Ernie twice: once when he was dumped in Spicewood, TX, and they trapped him and brought him to our loving home; and again when he suffered a heat stroke and Caitlin talked me through what to do to save his life. Caitlin called Heart of Texas Veterinary Specialty Center to let them know a Great Dane was coming that would need urgent attention: suspected heat stroke!
By the time we arrived, the situation was dire. A catheter was inserted within minutes and Ernie started receiving fluids. His temperature started coming down over time. But vital organ damage was suspected. An EKG showed an irregular heartbeat. An ultrasound showed a full stomach of food, which is a good thing because that meant that he didn't get bloat (something common in Great Danes). There was a chance he would need a plasma transfusion due to petechiae, which means bruising on abdomen caused by his blood's clotting ability due to heat stroke. This can worsen over time. Time would tell. I returned to the vet E.R. late that night to lay in the kennel with Ernie, where he was recovering. He seemed to perk up at my presence. He even got up to try to walk out with me. His fighting spirit was evident. He, very fortunately, walked out the next evening with no lingering issues, some oral medications to take at home, and has now made a full recovery.
Ernie preparing to be discharged from Heart of Texas Vet Specialty Center in Round Rock, TX
We are very lucky. This is not always the case. It's not even often the case. When we brought Ernie in to Heart of Texas Vet Specialty Center, the doctors did not have a good outlook on his condition improving. Ernie's quick bounce-back and walking away from this a day and a half later is astonishing- and such a praise!
Even Michael Easter, author of The Comfort Crisis (best book I've ever read, by the way), heard my story about Ernie and responded "Be careful with dogs. They can't cool themselves like humans can. They aren't able to cool while running, get hit with more sun, store more heat, etc." Michael Easter is the world's biggest advocate of getting outside and doing hard things. But even he knows to protect your dogs. Definitely take these words to heart. I am very lucky to be writing a cautionary tale and not an obituary.
TRAPRS was so helpful in this process. We are working with them now to educate other dog owners and dog-lovers (potato potato). TRAPRS also helped us with the very expensive vet bill to save Ernie- a bill that cost more than the vehicle I drive (a Vespa scooter)! If you would like to donate to this incredible 501c3 nonprofit, you may Venmo @theTRAPRS or Paypal Paypal.me/theTRAPRS. If you'd like your funds to go directly toward reimbursing the portion of the bill that TRAPRS paid for Ernie, please write "Ernie" in the comments of your contribution. If you make a contribution, please click TTMG (Talk to Me, Goose) on this BrookBenten website to let me know so that I may send you a personal Thank You.
Ernie one-week post tragedy, fully recovered with tail wagging
As a fitness enthusiast and outdoor adventurer, gripped by wanderlust, I implore you to do hard things! It's deeply gratifying to do hard things (Google the word "misogi," and, seriously, read The Comfort Crisis)! But it's pretty hot. Be smart and leave your dog indoors or in the shade with lots of water during the hot summer afternoon hours.