By MIKE CHAIKEN
Melissa Cummings was clearly in distress.
The images flashing across the screen in a Facebook news feed video showed a flushed Cummings, clearly sweating, as she sat inside her car with the windows rolled up.
Her breath was clearly clipped by the heat as she spoke inside the super heated vehicle on a sunny, oppressively hot summer day.
In that video, the Bristol resident detailed the sensation of being in a hot car and she explained how it might feel to a dog caught in a similar vehicle on a similar day where there was a heat watch advisory.
From that particular video, Cummings attracted a ton of interest on Facebook alone, which then generated media interest. And now her video has attracted the attention of state Rep. Cara Pavalock, who will work with Cummings on legislation to help prevent dogs from being left in hot vehicles in the summer.
What was going on that day that led Cummings to make this “selfie” video that has had such an impact?
“I had seen a woman walk her dog to her car (in the parking lot at Price Chopper on Farmington Avenue),” said Cummings, who is a student at the University of Hartford studying physical therapy. “The windows had been rolled up.”
Cummings kept an eye on the dog in that locked car. After a half hour, without the woman returning and the dog still in the vehicle, Cummings grabbed a security guard. When the woman still had not returned, Cumming and the guard notified police, who took the dog out of the car.
The woman eventually came out to claim her dog. But Cummings said she was still upset about the incident.
“I was going to go for a run after I got out of Price Chopper,” said Cummings. “Instead I decided to sit in the car for an hour (and video the experience). I thought it would give a more powerful message if I had done that versus if I just posted a status about it or posted a simple picture.”
Cummings said she figured putting herself in the same situation as an animal in car and “telling people about how I felt” would have more impact. In her video, she said she compared “myself to an animal—I wasn’t wearing a fur coat. I was wearing spandex. (Even so) I was already flush. My eyes were puffy. I was in a sweat. I walked in the house (after my hour in the car) and my mom could have sworn I took a shower.”
Although there was a similar video posted by an NFL player, Cummings said she was unaware of it when she did her video. For her, it was a spur of the moment action.
The experience of being in the locked vehicle was not what she expected, said Cummings. “We’ve all walked into a car on a hot summer day. It’s a sauna in there and we have to roll down the windows.”
But her hour was much more intense. Cummings said she eventual “started feeling dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, and disoriented. Then there was the sweating…I literally had sweat dripping down from my arms and legs.” The possibility of heat exhaustion or heat stroke was real, she said.
The sensations didn’t end after she finally left the vehicle, Cummings said. “It was definitely a struggle to get to the shower.” And she had to be careful about how she rehydrated herself.
“Recovering from that isn’t easy,” said Cummings, who owns two dogs. “It’s not just a sip of Gatorade.”
Initially, Cummings only posted the video on her personal Facebook page. Then someone suggested she share it on a community page that caters to Bristol residents.
And the discussions took off from there.
One of the people who saw Cumming’s video was State Rep. Pavalock, who reached out to the Bristol resident asking if she would interested in turning her video into a launch pad for legislation to address people who leave their animals in locked vehicles on a hot summer day.
Pavalock explained, “I became aware of Melissa’s message through social media. I was moved by her passion for pets impressed with how effective she was at drawing viewers into the sweltering hot car with her. Her video was so powerful that I became uncomfortable just watching it.”
Inspired by the video, Pavalock will be working with Cummings on possible legislation
Currently, under state law, Pavalock explained: “Leaving your pet in a hot car could fall under the current Connecticut animal cruelty statute, which could result in a fine of up to $1,000, a year in prison or both; however prosecution is not common.”
“Melissa and I have been talking to residents and employees of various businesses in Bristol and have found that unreported incidents of animals being left in hot vehicles happen more often than people think. Rather than create more laws, public awareness and education may be a more effective way to prevent future tragedies,” said Pavalock.
Cummings said, “What we’re trying to do now is establish funding for posters, banners, and get publicity.” Some of their efforts, she said, may be introduced at the West End Association’s Summer Festival at Rockwell Park Saturday.
Pavalock said Cummings will be spearheading the efforts to make the new legislation a reality. “I am here to help Melissa. It was her idea and her initiative so I want to do all I can as a legislator to help her get that message across to the people of Bristol.”
Pavalock said, “Right now the planning process is still in its infancy. We are working with city officials and the local police department to put together a comprehensive campaign that will have a positive impact.”
“This is a cause that I can support because I know it is an issue that is important to Ms. Cummings and to the thousands of other Bristol residents that own and care about their pets,” said the legislator.
Asked how it felt that a spur of the moment action could result in changes in the state of Connecticut, Cummings said, “It’s kind of surreal the possibility of helping pass a law at the age of 20 but I’ve always been an outspoken and out going kind of person.”
For the Republican legislator, the ultimate goal of this effort with Cummings “is to bring awareness to the issue that heat kills and more importantly to save lives.”
To view Melissa Cummings’s video, go to https://video-dfw1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hvideo-xpf1/v/t42.1790-2/11741488_10207605737289300_1031222019_n.mp4?efg=eyJybHIiOjUwNCwicmxhIjo1NTZ9&rl=504&vabr=280&oh=d7bb621125dff38aeaad6907251d97ba&oe=55CA2084
By MIKE CHAIKEN