Hallowell police have charged a man with animal cruelty after he allegedly left his dog in a hot car for about 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon on Water Street.

The car was parked on the east side of the street, in the sun, and with its four windows each cracked open about 2 inches, when an officer arrived and found the dog inside, police Chief Eric Nason said.

The officer was responding to a call from a member of the public, who said the dog — brown and with the look of a boxer mix — had been in the parked car for a half-hour.

In an interview, the dog’s owner, 25-year-old Ryker Wells, of Augusta, said he was grabbing a drink at a bar in downtown Hallowell and made a mistake by leaving his 1.5-year-old dog, Atlas, in the vehicle. He didn’t dispute the civil charge and said he will be “honest” when appearing in court about it.

But Wells also said his dog was never in danger. The weather was overcast when he first parked the car Tuesday, around 1:30 p.m., and he immediately returned to let his dog out when he realized the sun had started to shine, he said.

“He was out in the actual heat for no more than 10 minutes,” Wells said of Atlas, whom he had picked up from a shelter eight months ago. “It was cloudy and fine when I left him there.”

In this case, two factors — the car’s temperature and the dog’s appearance — led to an officer charging Wells, according to Nason.

The dog “was awake and panting,” Nason said. “The panting sets off some red flags. Certainly that would be something that is not natural behavior from an animal. … It would be an indication of some type of possibility of extreme heat.”

And based on the time the dog was in the car and the outside air temperature of 72 degrees, the officer estimated the car’s inside temperature was about 100 degrees, Nason said.

He made that determination using a formula from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which estimates that 70-degree air outside can heat the interior of a car to 99 degrees in 20 minutes, and 104 degrees in 30 minutes.

Though the car’s windows were open a bit in this case, Nason said, “either way, it’s going to trap a fair amount of heat.”

An officer went to the car around 2 p.m. It was parked on the east side of Water Street, between the Wharf and Winthrop street intersections.

When Wells returned to unlock the car, the officer wrote him a civil summons on a charge of animal cruelty. Wells said he might face a fine of up to $500 and that he has an otherwise “100 percent clean record.”

But while Wells agreed that Atlas had been in the car a half-hour, he said the sun was beaming on the car for just 10 minutes. He didn’t leave the windows more open because he’d seen rain was in the forecast, he said.

At the time, he was getting a drink with someone in the outdoor section of the Quarry Tap Room, just down the block and on the same side of the street.

“The second the sun came out, I immediately told the waitress my dog was in the car and I had to pay my check,” Wells said. “He was never in any danger. He probably did have some discomfort. I’m not saying it wasn’t a mistake, but I treat him as good as I can. I would not have let him be in danger. If I thought it would take any longer, I would have sent (the person he was meeting).”

Wells also said this was the first time he left Atlas alone in the car and that he gave the dog water as soon as he returned. Afterwards, the dog seemed healthy to him.

“It’s not something I’ll be doing again,” he said.

Hallowell police commonly receive complaints about animals left in parked cars on hot days — and in winter, cold days — but Nason couldn’t recall another time that someone was punished for it in the last two years.

“They’re all case-by-case,” Nason said. “(They depend) on circumstances of the witness and the condition of the animal. Is the car in shade? Does the animal have water? All kinds of elements play into these kind of calls.”

Nason also couldn’t recall a time when a Hallowell officer has had to break into a hot car where an animal was being kept, but he said that could be an option for police when necessary.

If a citizen sees an animal in a parked car, whether in summer or winter, and thinks it’s in jeopardy, Nason said he recommends that person report it to the police or an animal control officer.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker