Lethargic and blind from swelling in his brain, his pink skin covered with small red dots indicating small bleeds under the surface, Thor the bulldog succumbed to complications from heat stroke early Tuesday.
The 18-month-old, otherwise healthy 57-pound brindle and white bulldog was found locked in a car at WestGate Mall Sunday afternoon. The windows were cracked, but it was still too hot for the bulldog, a breed that is particularly susceptible to heat stroke because of its shortened muzzle.
Thor was already in distress when found by Spartanburg Public Safety Department officers, his tongue lolling out and his breathing fast. He threw up as officers broke a window and worked to get him out of the car and appeared to be in shock, too weak to drink water the officers offered him.
Thor was treated by veterinarians at the Spartanburg Humane Society during the day, and by Care Animal Regional Emergency Clinic by night. He died at the Care clinic shortly after midnight Tuesday, said Katie Freseman, spokeswoman for the humane society.
But those at the Spartanburg Humane Society say Thor's death isn't in vain. Messages of hope and love for Thor came from as far away as the United Kingdom, and a donation toward his medical care came from Miami. Before his death was reported, many expressed an interest in adopting him. "The outpouring of support for this dog has been phenomenal," Freseman said. "He's helping us spread a very important message to our community."
The message, Freseman said: Even 5 minutes in a car during the summer is too long. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can turn deadly for dogs in just minutes. "Five minutes in the store can turn into 30 if you run into a friend you haven't seen in a while," Freseman said. "It's just not worth the risk."
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, symptoms of overheating in pets include:• Excessive panting or difficulty breathing; • Increased heart and respiratory rate; • Drooling; • Mild weakness; • Stupor; • Seizures; • Bloody diarrhea or vomit; • Body temperature of more than 104 degrees; and • Collapse.
Heat stroke causes brain damage and organ failure and as in Thor's case, is often fatal. Pets with short muzzles, like bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to the condition.
Thor's owners, Tony Lee Davis, 33, and his girlfriend, Tonya Middleton, 33, of Fletcher, N.C., told police they were returning from a beach trip with their children and dog. They went into WestGate for a bathroom break, and were inside for about 45 minutes, according to police. Thor was inside a car parked in the shade, with the windows cracked. It was raining at the time.
There are no laws regarding pets locked in vehicles in South Carolina. Tony Davis was charged by the Spartanburg Public Safety Department with ill treatment of animals and released from jail on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond.
Ill treatment of animals is a misdemeanor, and since this is a first offense for Davis, he faces up to 60 days in jail, a $100 to $500 fine or both if convicted.
A second offense carries up to 90 days in jail and/or $800 fine and third or subsequent offenses carry up to 2 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
Spartanburg Public Safety Capt. Regina Nowak has spoken to Thor's owners since Sunday and they are very upset about their dog's death. Nowak said the incident was a tragic accident.
"(Middleton) was just devastated when I talked to her today," Nowak said. "She said, ‘How am I going to tell my kids he died?' They know what they did was wrong. Did they intend to harm the dog? No. Are they remorseful. Yes. It still doesn't change what happened. All around, it's a bad situation." Thor's remains will be released to the family, Nowak said. The charge against Davis still stands but he is not facing additional charges.
For police and animal lovers, Tuesday was a sad day.
"We were all rooting for him," Freseman said. "But if there's anything positive to come out of this, it's that he's been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people."