Couple fined $2,500 for leaving dogs in hot car

Secaucus getting tougher on animal abuse

As one of the hottest summers on record draws to an end, Secaucus is continuing its campaign announced earlier this summer to prevent people from leaving their pets in hot cars. Last week, officials said they had fined one North Bergen couple $2,500 and forced them to pay $600 in veterinarian bills on July 8 after a harrowing incident in the Secaucus Best Buy parking lot.
Passerby spotted the two small dogs baking in a hot car with the windows closed, officials said, and called police. When authorities arrived, the dogs’ owner had returned, but the animals were in sorry shape.
“They were overheated and had to be put in an ice bath and taken immediately to the vet,” said Chris Conte, manager of the Secaucus Animal Shelter.
“Because dogs don’t sweat, their brain literally fries,” said Matt Stanton, spokesperson for the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA). “They go through a seizure and they die. In hot weather it’s not safe even if you leave the window cracked.”
According to the SPCA, it only takes minutes for a dog to go into heat distress inside a locked car. Just this past week, on Sept. 5, bystanders broke the windows of a car in Florida to save two dogs left in intense heat, estimated at 130 degrees inside the car. A 10-month old Dachshund mix survived, but its companion, a 5-year-old Staffordshire terrier, died from heatstroke.
Luckily, the two dogs rescued from the car in Secaucus both survived.

“Because dogs don’t sweat, their brain literally fries.” –Matt Stanton
The dogs’ owners, residents of North Bergen who immigrated from Asia, said that in their native country they were allowed to leave the dogs in the car, but that they would never do it again. Nonetheless, they were charged with animal endangerment and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“We took them to court and they received the maximum summons of $2,500,” said Conte. “And they had to pay over $600 in vet and care bills.”
Secaucus isn’t fooling around when it comes to animal welfare. “We’ve become more proactive,” said Councilwoman Susan Pirro, the liaison to the Animal Shelter. “We are a town of animal lovers and we want to protect them.”

Abandoned animals

“Since I’ve taken over we have really cracked down on a lot of town and state ordinances that were not being followed,” said Conte, a self-described “animal activist” who has been with the shelter for five years and in charge for about two and a half.
“We’re really cracking down on negligence,” she added, citing three cases of “big-time negligence” currently making their way through the legal system.
The shelter has changed dramatically in the past few years, including building a new facility and rescuing animals from other, high-kill shelters to find them adoptive homes locally. Their reputation has spread throughout the region and other towns look to Secaucus as a model of animal rescue and treatment. “We’re not that small local shelter anymore,” said Conte.
Right now is a busy time for the shelter. “A lot of South Jersey realtors will be calling us,” said Conte. “People get animals for the summer in their summer homes and they don’t take them back. That usually happens when five or six teenagers rent a home and they get something cute and then they have to go home and they leave it behind.”
Secaucus had another instance of cruel abandonment about two years ago when someone called about a condo on Meadowlands Parkway. “A person moved to Florida and left their dog in there with no electricity, and somebody was sliding food under the door,” said Conte.
The person caring for the dog eventually realized the owner wasn’t coming back, and reported the situation. Secaucus contacted the SPCA and Officer Frank Rizzo got involved. The dog was rescued and given a loving home in town.
“That’s when we started really cracking down,” said Conte. “People can’t get away with that stuff.”

5,000 cases of animal cruelty a year

“We were created in 1868 by state legislature,” said spokesperson Stanton about the NJSPCA. “We’re responsible for enforcing Title 4.”
Title 4 is the state statute protecting domestic animals. NJSPCA officers are uniformed and licensed to carry weapons.
Among their other duties, NJSPCA officers engage in “Operation Jersey Shore” during the hot weather months, patrolling parking lots along the shore looking for animals left in vehicles. They also patrol parking lots at major events in New Jersey like the recent State Fair in Sussex County.
If an animal is found sealed in a hot car, it’s an instant ticket. Certain things, like dog fighting, are indictable offenses. Other offenses are more discretionary on the part of the officer.

Local fundraisers

“A lot of local residents appreciate that we’re so animal friendly,” Conte said. “A lot of good is happening. Things are moving in a positive, animal friendly direction.”
Animal cruelty or neglect can be reported by calling the police, the Secaucus Animal Shelter at (201) 348-3213, or the NJSPCA at (800) 582-5979. Reports can also be made online at by using the online Report Cruelty form. To remain anonymous use the online form and in the comment section state that you need to remain anonymous.
Upcoming fundraising events sponsored by the Animal Shelter include Dog Day Afternoon on Sunday, Sept. 13. For a $10 donation to the shelter residents can bring their dogs to the town pool from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a day of swimming with other dogs. Then on Sunday, Oct. 4 it’s the fourth annual flea market to benefit the shelter. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Meadowlands Hospital parking lot. To reserve a vendor table or donate call Sue Pirro at (201) 563-2161.

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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