A Maltese dog died in Yorktown Monday afternoon after the owner left the animal inside a van where temperatures reached 140 degrees, police said.
When police arrived -- after a call from a concerned passerby who spotted the suffering animal inside the baking van -- they found the dog convulsing and struggling to breathe. The dog was tied to a hand truck inside the van, which was parked in direct sunlight, state park police said.
Authorities tried to save the dog, to no avail.
"The animal, which continued to convulse, was removed and immediately put under shade and given water, which it could not drink," said Ken Ross, chief investigator of the Westchester County SPCA. "The animal almost immediately became stiff after being removed and subsequently expired."
Police charged 41-year-old Heriberto Palacio, of the Bronx, with misdemeanor animal cruelty. Police say Palacio showed disregard for the dog's safety by leaving it inside the van while going to "cool off" at Franklin D. Roosevelt Park with his girlfriend and daughter.
The outside temperature was more than 95 degrees, but inside the van, temperatures were a sweltering 140 degrees, Ross said.
He said the incident serves as a reminder to people that "leaving any animal in a vehicle, even for a 'short period of time' is dangerous to the animal's health."
Temperatures inside a vehicle can be 30 degrees hotter than outdoor ambient temperatures, even with the windows cracked open, experts say.
"If you care for your animal, it's better to leave them home than to risk their death in your vehicle and your possible arrest for animal cruelty," Ross said.
Palacio told police he planned to hang out in the park and have a barbecue with his girlfriend and daughter. When Palacio returned to the vehicle about an hour and a half later, the dog was already dead.
Ross said Palacio pleaded ignorance, saying he didn't know leaving the animal in the car could be fatal.
Class "A" misdemeanors can result in up to one year in jail, $1,000 fine or a combination of both per conviction.
The SPCA of Westchester's Humane Law Enforcement Department asks anyone with any information relating to any act of animal cruelty to contact it's 24 hour Cruelty Hotline – 914-941-7797. All calls will remain confidential.