It’s simple physics: a car with its windows rolled up on a hot day can quickly become an oven. Sunlight — and therefore heat — can get in, but they can’t get out. Even if it seems cool out, that car can get really hot very quickly.
At 72° F (22° C), it only takes an hour for a car to hit 116° F (47° C). Raise the outside temperature to just 80° F (27° C) and it can hit 100° F (38° C) in just ten minutes.
Put a dog in that car and not only will it contribute to the rise in temperature, it can die very quickly from heatstroke.
This is why it’s very important to raise awareness of the danger of hot cars to dogs, and to do something about it if we see a dog locked inside of a car.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends taking the following steps if you do see a dog locked in a car:
- Get the make, model, and license plate number of the car.
- If there are nearby businesses, ask them to make an announcement to find the car’s owner.
- If they can’t locate the owner, call the police department’s non-emergency number or local animal control, and wait by the car until they arrive.
Even before you encounter this situation, HSUS suggests that you have the appropriate numbers already in your phone or car, and know the laws regarding such situations in your local jurisdiction. One of the trickier issues is whether it’s legal to break a window or otherwise damage the car in order to get the dog out, and opinion on this is still mixed.
In Worcester, Massachusetts, for example, a police chief warned that people who broke windows to get dogs out of hot cars would be prosecuted. In other cases in New York and Canada, people who did so were not held liable, while the owners were fined for animal cruelty.
In an interview with AZFamily.com, Phoenix defense attorney Russ Richelsoph explained that the law isn’t always clear-cut on the issue, but added, “We have something called the necessity defense,” in which police “are going to weigh the value of the window versus the benefit of saving that dog’s life.”
What this means is that if a “reasonable person” would agree that breaking a window was the best and only way to save the dog’s life, then doing so would be justified.
This is why it’s vital to take the steps recommended by HSUS above. Maybe the owner will turn up in a couple of minutes, or police or animal control show up in time to rescue the dog, in which case breaking into the car would not be justified and a would-be good Samaritan could be arrested or fined for it.
Prevention is always better than having to deal with an emergency, so the best way you can help is to raise awareness beforehand. The HSUS has a pamphlet that you can distribute to educate people about the danger of hot cars, and you can also practice a little activism to try to get business owners to post warning signs. Finally, educate yourself about your local laws regarding pets in hot cars. If there aren’t laws against it now, contact local government to petition for a change. If there are laws, learn them and tell your friends.
Many people love to take their dogs with them on errands but they may not understand the potential dangers of even short time periods locked in the car. Raising awareness now will save lives in the future.