After Ruth and Lloyd Sawyer helped rescue a 2-year-old pit bull from the closed cab of a broiling hot U-Haul truck at their Fort Myers condo Sunday they checked further and found a pit bull puppy.
And then they found another, and another and then five more pit bull pups, some near death from what the couple said was about an hour long exposure to high temperatures.
Eight animals were pulled from the hot truck at the Villa Capri condos on Montclair Avenue, police said.
The animals had been left in the sweltering truck on a record 96-degree day in Fort Myers. The man who claimed ownership was later arrested by Fort Myers police for animal cruelty.
Ruth Sawyer had been keeping an eye on the truck for about an hour when her husband suggested she look because he thought he had heard a dog.
Ruth Sawyer said police responded within minutes with Lee County EMTs and the Lee County Domestic Animal Services close behind.
"I said, 'Honey, I'll go out and I'll check it,' and as soon as I got out the dog jumped against the window and was coughing and could hardly breathe," she said. "The windows were not cracked at all," she said. "That's when we heard the puppies crying."
After the couple got the mother and seven pups out from inside the cab of the large U-Haul truck, which she said was parked in full sun, they called police.
According to the National Weather Service, the high temperature in Fort Myers on Sunday was 96, a record. For a closed vehicle on a 95-degree day, the inside temperature will climb to 133 degrees within 40 minutes, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Police officers took the distressed puppies into their patrol vehicles to use the air conditioning to help the animals respond.
Ruth Sawyer and others at the condo complex brought a large bowl of cold water to the officers, who began to bathe the puppies to bring their temperature down. Fort Myers Fire Department personnel supplied oxygen with a breathing mask.
"They were using an infant mask on the puppies," Ruth Sawyer said.
The vehicle's owner, Dustin Michael Unwin, 28, of Holiday, claimed ownership of the dogs and the U-Haul truck.
According to the police report Unwin said he had just left Precious, the mother dog, and the pups in the truck for 10 minutes.
Precious and her 2-week-old puppies were turned over to Lee County Domestic Animal Services.
Ruth Sawyer said Unwin was not a resident there but said he had been visiting. "He told us he was on his way moving from Lehigh to Lakeland and stopped to see a relative here. He told the police repeatedly he left them (the dogs) for 10 minutes, but we know that's not true," she said.
At the animal shelter Monday afternoon the pups were huddled asleep in a dog bed while Precious stood guard, wagging some, growling some, but generally in good spirits. A late-afternoon veterinary report said the dogs were all in good condition.
"We are very thankful for the observant 911 caller and the quick actions of all the public service professionals who brought great resolution to this potentially tragic incident," said police spokesman Lt. Victor Medico.