By Jon Sutz
Founder, HeatKills.us (and previously, HeatKills.org)
Shayna, the "miracle dog" in whose loving memory the HeatKills project was created. Learn about her here.
The HeatKills project is dedicated to one mission: to help prevent dogs from suffering in hot cars.
The entire project was inspired by, and is lovingly dedicated to Shayna, the "miracle dog" that helped to save my spirit after the 9/11 attacks. Learn about her in Section 3.
I built the original version of the site, HeatKills.org, in 2013-14 (archive here). It rapidly became a highly-respected and widely-cited online resource that focused specifically on the issue of heatstroke and dogs. Section 4 below shows how some examples of HeatKills.org was cited, and used by dog lovers throughout America, and beyond. Then, as I describe here, all that I'd accomplished with HeatKills.org was destroyed, through a tragedy that was beyond my control. The core data was still intact, but the HeatKills.org domain - and all to which it was attached - was wrecked, by the negligence of one of America's largest domain registrars. It is the subject of upcoming litigation.
HeatKills.us is the rebirth of that work, in a slimmed-down format, that is far more compatible with phone and tablet displays. As I describe in Section 6, my hope is to attract a celebrity of high character and vision, to acquire the HeatKills project, and help recruit Hollywood to mainstream it worldwide.
Below is a detailed description of how the original site came to be, the "miracle dog" that inspired it, and what I accomplished before the site was destroyed - and my vision for the impact that this new version could have, with the proper backing. If you have any suggestions for how to accomplish this mission, I hope you'll reach out.
- Jon Sutz
May 12, 2023
(1) The HeatKills.us mission
(2) The problem
(3) About Shayna, the "miracle dog" who inspired me to develop a world-class resource to help prevent dogs from suffering in hot cars
(4) My creation of HeatKills.org in 2014, and what I accomplished -- before it was destroyed by my domain registrar's negligence
(5) My vision for the future of HeatKills.us
(6) I'm looking for a special celebrity to make HeatKills.us their signature "cause"
(7) Special thanks and shout-outs
The mission of HeatKills.us is to create state-of-the-art knowledge tools and activism strategies that will:
- Raise broad-scale public awareness of the heatstroke danger of leaving dogs in cars
- Help key organizations (police departments, retail managers, etc.) to efficiently prevent, detect and respond to dogs in hot cars
- Help ensure that anyone who leaves a dog in a hot car faces severe legal consequences
- Empower people at all levels of society, including those with limited mobility, to help advance this mission
The centerpiece of the HeatKills tool kit is this infographic; learn more at The Facts.
Dogs throughout America and the world suffer unimaginable agony, irreversible organ damage, and even die, as a result of being left in hot cars. In most cases, this occurs because dog owners (and observers) are unaware of the danger of leaving them in a car, even on a seemingly “cool” day, and even if the windows are left partially open.
To get an idea of the general public's tragic unawareness of these basic facts, see the nearly 150 comments on this video.
This lack of awareness is largely the result of the fact that local authorities – police officers, shopping mall and movie theater managers, and animal control officers – are also unaware of this danger. And as I later documented in a report, an otherwise respected Virginia SPCA publicized medical information that, according to veterinarians and veterinary reference manuals, would likely make a dog in possible heatstroke worse, or even kill it.
As my research into this problem expanded, in 2013-14, a former Virginia state employee disclosed something to me that I found too crazy to be true. The allegation: that the official Virginia state curriculum that is mandatory in order to become an animal control officer (ACO), contained not a single word about the heatstroke danger to dogs, and that document had not been updated since 2006. I didn't want to believe it - until I saw the document he shared with me, and verified its accuracy with Virginia authorities.
The bottom line, as I discussed with my new friend, was that unless an ACO has received supplemental training, he/she likely has no evidence-based knowledge of:
- How quickly the interior temperature of a car rises, even if the windows are partially open
- The signs of heatstroke
- How to properly attempt to save a dog that was left in a hot environment
- The fact that the symptoms of organ and brain damage a dog has suffered from being left in a hot car, may not become apparent until hours or days later
I researched this matter with veterinarians and ACOs in other parts of America, and found that this was not an anomaly. While we must assume most ACOs are well-intentioned, many if not most can only operate from "gut instinct" regarding heatstroke and dogs.
These are some of the primary reasons why, when reasonable (but uninformed) people encounter a dog that's locked in a car, they often will leave the scene without doing anything. My research and interaction with such people indicates that this lack of engagement most often occurs because:
- They don’t recognize the danger
- They anticipate the dog's owner will soon return
- They're unwilling to take the time to summon help, or from whom
- They don't want to instigate a potential confrontation with the dog's owner
I found this situation to be intolerable, and became determined to use my various skills to help correct it.
(3) About Shayna, who inspired me to develop a world-class resource to help prevent dogs from suffering in hot cars
Shayna, a Border Collie-Siberian Husky mix, came into my life as a traumatized* 12-week-old baby, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, I was suffering from some of the most severe traumas of my life, and having never owned a dog (as an adult), was pretty apprehensive. But as I later described in my first book, a memoir, we helped each other to heal, and enjoyed twelve deliriously happy years together. (*Shayna's SPCA intake form indicated she'd been rescued from three days in a storm drain, without her mother, in freezing weather.)
Despite her traumatic "childhood," Shayna's incredibly inventive brain, and her burning desire to learn new memory skills, amazed dog lovers and canine cognition experts near and far, and she was featured several times on Virginia TV news channels. Of particular note - by the end of her life, Shayna:
- Had memorized the names of 57 toys, could retrieve them by name, and put them away in a box or a bowl, on command
- Invented a trick for herself that I came to call "frisbee skiing" (here)
- Could dunk balls in her talking basketball backboard
- Could stack ring toys by name, on a pole
- Was learning to "read" flash cards, with pictures of her toys on them (this is apparently a "holy grail" cognitive skill, in re the ability to relate a 2D picture to its 3D equivalent)
This a 6-minute video contains footage of Shayna demonstrating some of these skills, and describes some of what made her, and my relationship with her, so remarkable:
In loving memory of Shayna (d. 3/26/14), and to the unlimited potential of the human-dog relationship, when it's approached with great care and respect, I spent six years writing a book (my first) about our mutual healing journey, and some of the many "life lessons" I learned by being her "dad":
From 2011-14, often with Shayna by my side, I kept observing (and frequently documenting) incidents of dogs being left in cars during the spring-summer-fall months. Here's one of my videos (details here), from August 4, 2013:
The most tragic facet of this situation, to me, is that in general, people who leave their dogs in cars are not sadistic animal abusers. Rather, they believe they love their canine friends, which is why they bring them on their travels in the first place - and that leaving them in a car, with the windows partially open, poses no danger to them.
They believe this because they don't possess even the most basic knowledge of heatstroke and dogs, and as a result, leave them in potentially deadly situations.
Inspired by Shayna's incredible spirit and drive for excellence, I embarked on one of the most fulfilling missions of my life: to create a world-class online resource to help prevent dogs from suffering the agony of heatstroke.
(4) My creation of HeatKills.org in 2014, and what the site accomplished -- before it was destroyed by a domain registrar's negligence
After I had to send Shayna to Heaven, on March 26, 2014, I became determined to use the full range of my creative skills to design and build, in her loving memory, a world-class online resource to help prevent dogs from suffering the agony of heatstroke.
Briefly, I am a visualization and graphic designer, writer and creative consultant, based in Charlottesville, VA. Learn about me here.
Prior to adopting Shayna, I had no knowledge about heatstroke and dogs, but I innately sensed that leaving a dog in a car for anything more than a few moments, in anything other than cold temperatures, was extremely dangerous. I had no factual basis for my belief, it was just a very strong suspicion.
After observing and documenting so many incidents of dogs being left in hot cars, and especially after difficult interactions with the dog's owner or police officers, I would often try to find quality information online about the science of heatstroke and dogs, to either confirm or debunk my or their perceptions.
What I found were lots of pages containing differing allegations about dogs and heatstroke, but few linked back to scientific sources that I could check for myself. Further, I could not find any resource that was 100% dedicated to this issue, let alone one that presented all this information in a format so simple that even a child could quickly grasp it, and validate claims as accurate.
To fill this gap, on August 29, 2013 I bought the domain HEATKILLS.org, from one of America's largest registrars, and began developing the conceptual architecture of what an "ultimate" site to educate the public about heatstroke and dogs would consist of, and look like.
By the fall of 2014, several months after I had to send Shayna to Heaven, I'd designed the HeatKills banner/logo, and built version 1.0 of the site (archived here) - which, as I said earlier, was dedicated to Shayna, right on the front page:
2014-2020: My progress to make HeatKills.org the "gold-standard" online resource I sought, but could not find
Between 2014-2020, I worked alone, in the little slivers of time I could afford, to turn HeatKills.org into the website I was looking for, but could not find. By the end of its existence, in 2020, it became, arguably, the most respected (if not only) website that was dedicated to the issue of heatstroke and dogs.
Here's what I accomplished:
(1) I was interviewed on radio talk shows across America
(2) HeatKills and its resources were widely cited within the dog-loving community, in America and beyond
(3) I got to interview Dr. Ernie Ward, one of America's most noted veterinarians, on heatstroke and dogs
(4) My local parks & recreation department granted me special permission to place advertiser-supported banners for HeatKills.org in its off-leash dog parks
(5) I was finally able to secure HeatKills.org's first local sponsor
(6) 2020: My domain registrar destroyed seven years of my work, when it lost my HeatKills.org domain
Many of these interviews were with Virginia radio stations, but as time went on, and were heard on podcasts, I received requests from stations in other states.
Listen to a sampling of these interviews at:
In particular, the key infographic I created for the project was utilized by dog welfare activists, animal control officers, veterinarians, and websites in America and beyond. See a sampling of these items here.
The world's most popular animal-related website, TheDodo.com, reached out and asked for, and received, my permission to use one of my videos of dogs left in hot cars, as part of a compilation video they were producing. The resulting video got 37 million views in one month.
As HeatKills.org's reputation as a definitive resource on heatstroke and dogs grew, it paved the way for me to do an interview with one of America’s most famous and influential veterinarians, Ernie Ward, DVM (which I promoted via this Facebook post, from September 2, 2014).
Needless to say, this was a dicey proposal for the Albemarle County (Virginia) department of Parks & Recreation to consider, because if it made an exception for me, others might seek to place ads in a public parks. Here's what I proposed - and after some back-and-forth (including requests for mock-ups to show how it would display), my request was approved:
Unfortunately, I'm a far better graphic designer and content creator than a self-promoter. Over the years, I made numerous attempts to attract sponsors for HeatKills.org printed flyers, vinyl banners (above), and other educational tools to raise awareness of the heatstroke danger to dogs, but failed badly. In 2015 I also created a crowdfunding campaign to enable me to take HeatKills.org to the next level, but that failed, as well.
I attribute my failures to two key factors:
- My discomfort with self-promotion
- My time during this period was extremely limited, and I had precious little of it for a passion projects
In the spring of 2020, however, I secured HeatKills.org's first local sponsor, Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital in Charlottesville, VA, which enabled me to produce and distribute 600 of these glossy card-stock flyers:
Just as things were looking up, however, in the fall of 2020, HeatKills.org and everything I'd accomplished with it was destroyed - by the negligence of my domain registrar.
I realize this may sound impossible, but I have a mountain of detailed evidence to prove the following facts:
- My registrar that sold me my HeatKills.org domain in 2013, and had auto-renewed it each year, like clockwork, without my having to do anything.
- As in each previous year, the registrar notified me in July 2020 that it was going to again auto-renew the domain, just as it had in each of the previous six years
- My registrar then notified me that my HeatKills.org domain was renewed, and my credit card had been billed.
- My registrar later admitted, in writing, that it lost the domain, due to a "glitch" in its systems, and that unbeknownst to me, it went onto the open market, another party bought it, and paid for the registration to be filed anonymously.
- My registrar claimed it did everything possible to identify the new owner of HeatKills.org, and buy it back (at any price) - but was unsuccessful.
Essentially, everything I'd worked for and had accomplished with HeatKills.org, was destroyed.
A casual observer might say, "But wasn't the site backed up?" The answer is yes. To which the same observer might say, "Well, just buy a new domain, and rebuild there!"
The problem is, every thing I accomplished originated with, and led back to the HeatKills.org domain. Which, as of November 2020, displayed this:
To liken it to a physical home, imagine if, one day, you drove to your house and saw that the street number still existed, but your house was gone. It just vanished. No one knows where it is. Every inbound link, every radio interview I did in which I cited HeatKills.org, every reference, everywhere...
... leads only to a dead page.
As I said earlier, I have all the physical evidence to prove these assertions, and I don't make this claim lightly. One of my side-gigs through the years has been helping law firms that are engaged in high-value and complex litigation to create key visualization tools for courtroom presentations, juror notebooks, etc. My work has earned high praise from clients. I've now used these skills to prepare the case against the registrar that lost the HeatKills.org domain, and refused my offer to settle the matter.
As of this writing (May 12, 2023), there is a hard deadline approaching regarding this legal action.
To learn more about my effort to recover the damages I suffered as a result of the destruction of HeatKills.org, and how you might help it to succeed, please go here.
As described in Section 4, over the six years that my original site, HeatKills.org, was alive, it became a widely-cited, respected online resource for dog lovers in America, and beyond. It demonstrated what one motivated dog lover could accomplish, to raise awareness of the heatstroke danger to dogs.
Imagine, however, what a team of experienced, paid professionals from a variety of key realms could accomplish, to take what I've built and develop it to its ultimate potential.
In summary, my vision for HeatKills project is for it to:
(1) Become the global leader in creating and providing in-person and online education, to individuals and organizations, regarding heatstroke and dog physiology, and why it's so dangerous to leave a dog in a car
(2) Work with animal shelters and breeders to create means by which to ensure adopters (a) possess accurate knowledge regarding these issues, and (b) sign a contract that promises they will never leave the dog in a hot environment
(3) Create and implement a standardized, comprehensive suite of legislative activism tools and best practices, to raise support for laws that will severely punish anyone who causes a dog to suffer heatstroke
(4) Provide law enforcement agencies with heatstroke education resources, digital thermometers, and other key tools
(5) Attract the support of influencers from the entertainment, technology and auto manufacturing realms
(6) Establ a physical headquarters of the HeatKills organization, with branch offices around America, and eventually, the rest of the dog-loving world
In order to achieve this vision, a number of things need to happen, first:
- HeatKills.us must become incorporated, and secure 501(c)3 nonprofit status
- The HeatKills.us business plan must be developed
- HeatKills must acquire sufficient seed capital
When movie fans think of Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart, they typically associate those names with the very best of Hollywood. Amid endless scandal, backbiting, excess and voyeurism-as-a-model, these highly talented artists consistently demonstrate(d) exceptional character, generosity, and kindness. Because of this, charitable projects that are/were associated with their names represent the ultimate in "brand-friendly" sponsorship opportunities for mainstream corporations.
I am seeking such a celebrity, to:
- Acquire the HeatKills.us project from me, and make it their signature "cause"
- Retain me to for a period of dedicated consulting, to help develop the conceptual framework and business plan necessary to begin fulfilling the vision I laid out in Section (5)
Together, I believe this celebrity and I can build HeatKills.us into an organization that will bring together people and organizations from across the cultural spectrum, to turn my vision into reality.
I am working to build inroads into people and organizations in Hollywood who might know the kind of celebrity I seek.
If you can help me in this effort, please reach out.
(7) Special thanks and shout-outs
- Thanks to dog-loving friends who beta-tested HeatKills.us during its development, and made astute suggestions for how to improve the wording, design or functionality -- especially Kathy, Michael, Jen, Sarah, and Seth.
- Thanks also to the website designer-technician extraordinaire, Aaron Stokes, who took the plain-Jane site I was able to create (I am so not a techie, and turn it into the beautiful presentation that you now see. Also find Aaron on Fiverr here.