The "dog days of summer" are here, and humans aren't the only ones feeling the heat. Animals have an even harder time keeping cool: Unlike us, they can't simply crank up the air conditioner, drive to the pool or pour a cold glass of lemonade. They can't sweat like we do, and they're covered with fur. Our animal companions count on us to keep them comfortable and safe as the mercury soars.

That's exactly what security guards at Toronto's Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre are doing. In response to the death of a dog who was left in a hot vehicle in the mall's parking lot last summer, the shopping center has posted two security guards at each of its five main entrances to remind customers that leaving animals in cars on warm days can be deadly. Not many shopping centers are this proactive - which is why it's important to be a "watchdog" for animals left in vehicles and to have the vehicle's owner paged and/or call 911 if you see an animal in distress.

People often think they will only be in a store for "just a minute," but when it's warm outside, "just a minute" is all it takes to cook a dog alive in a car. On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to 120 degrees in minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes. Dogs can succumb to heatstroke in just 15 minutes, resulting in brain damage or death. Leaving windows partially open, parking in the shade or leaving water in the vehicle do not keep vehicles cool enough to be safe.

Transporting animals in the bed of a pickup truck isn't any safer. In fact, it's illegal in many areas because the hot metal can burn animals' footpads and animals can catapult out during sudden stops or choke if they jump out while they're tied to the truck.

Dogs who are kept chained or penned outdoors can also succumb to heatstroke and dehydration if they can't escape the scorching sun or if they knock over their water container. Cats who are left to roam unattended are in danger from the heat, too, as well as from being killed by cars, poisoned or abused by cruel people. If neighbors leave their animals outside, check on them often to ensure that they have water (in a tip-proof container), food, shade and shelter - and encourage your neighbors to let them indoors. If animals lack these necessities, give them water and notify authorities immediately.

On very hot days, even activities that dogs love - such as walks and games of fetch - require extra precautions. Hot pavement can burn paws, and it reflects heat. Always test the pavement with your hand before letting your pup set foot on it, and schedule walks for early in the morning and late at night, when it's cooler outside. Even if your dog is energetic, be sure to stop often in shady spots for rest and water breaks. Never make dogs run when it's hot outside - they will collapse before giving up.

The best place for our animal companions to beat the heat is indoors, with air conditioning or fans running and plenty of fresh, cool water available. If animals show symptoms of heatstroke - restlessness, heavy panting, vomiting, lethargy and lack of appetite or coordination - get them into the shade immediately. Lower the animal's body temperature by providing water, applying a cold towel to the head and chest or immersing the animal in tepid (not ice-cold) water. Then immediately call a veterinarian.

With help, our canine and feline companions can have it made in the shade on even the hottest days.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation.

Distributed by MCT Information Services