What to Do If You See a Dog in a Parked, Hot Car
Hot Cars Can and Will Kill a Dog
Hot cars kill! Yes—we've heard it on the news. Hot cars kill kids and kill people's beloved pets. I've seen dogs seizure and collapse from heat stroke and die on the spot. It's no joke and it's heartbreaking. These situations are emergencies!
According to the Humane Society:
- Cars can reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit from just 72 degrees within an hour.
- In 80-degree weather, a car can reach 99 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 minutes.
- Cracked windows are ineffective.
Always, always do your research about the law before acting. If in doubt, call the police!
Call the Police
Calling the police may save YOU from the law and they may respond faster. Check your state's law for the legalities of breaking and entering to save a confined dog (see link below). The police will advise you on what to do.
What to Do If You See a Dog Locked in a Hot Car
- Look: Is the dog alert? If the dog is still alert you have some time to act. Look immediately all around you to see if someone is walking away from the car.
- Call out or yell: Ask the closest person if the dog or car is theirs or if they know who the car belongs to.
- Notify the nearest major business: Google the direct number of the store/building/facility you are at and have someone page the entire clientele/building OR send someone in to relay the message. (I once called a public library to report a case and the librarian paged the entire library asking for the owner to return to the car immediately.)
- Call the police: You can call the police's non-emergency line and report it as an emergency. Give your location. Take down the car information—license plate, make/model, any other identifying information, the dog breed/size, and any other details. Document everything! TAKE PICTURES to document the situation as evidence (or a video).
- Don't leave! Recruit someone willing to help to be your relay person or the individual who Googles, calls, or contacts authorities. Keep eyes on the dog at all times!
- If the dog is dying, take action: If the dog is indeed dying, you need to get it out of there fast. Try the door first or try the window. BE AWARE, A SCARED DOG CAN BITE. You must proceed at your own risk. Always try to enter first without breaking.
- Administer first aid: Offer the dog water or immediately pour water on the dog or get them to the shade. Pouring water on the major circulatory areas—the jugular/neck and the inguinal region (groin) will cool a dog off fast. Also, alcohol pads or alcohol is an amazing first aid item you can use to cool a dog off fast. By applying alcohol on the dog's paw pads, you can cool down their body temperature.
- Report the event to authorities and educate the owner: This owner needs to be educated about the dangers of heat stroke. Report all of your documentation and note taking to the responders so that they know you acted in good faith. You may have just saved a life.
See a Lot of Strays?
When I was working as a kennel technician, this is they style of slip lead we worked with to "catch" dogs that were otherwise nervous. You make a big loop and just drop it over their head. This can work well for leashing a loose dog—always be cautious! You can keep one in your car for emergencies.
Good Samaritan Law
In certain states, good samaritans can legally rescue animals from cars under emergent circumstances.
Video: Vet Locks Himself in Hot Car as a Test
Is It Legal to Break Into a Car to Save a Dog?
28 U.S. states have laws that deal with pet endangerment and confinement in hot cars. Many of these states protect individuals from being sued if they are to intervene. Some of these states allow good samaritans and law enforcement to intervene to prevent heat-related deaths. These conditions are typically defined as follows:
- the animal is confined or unattended in extreme hot or cold
- the animal lacks ventilation, food, or water
- the animal is in immediate danger
12 States That Allow You to Rescue a Dog From a Hot Car
- Indiana (rescuer must pay half of damages)
Indiana requires the rescuer to pay half of the damages for forced entry. New Jersey and West Virginia criminalize leaving your dog locked up in a car but do not provide immunity for rescuers. For more information about state-by-state allowances and restrictions, read "Table of State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles"
How Do Dogs Cool Off?
Dogs don't sweat! They pant to try to cool off by circulating cooling air through their bodies. The hotter it is, the faster they pant. Dogs can sweat through their paw pads—you may have noticed nervous, sweaty paw pad prints on floors and tables at the vet's or groomer's. If you ever need to cool a dog off fast, apply alcohol or cold water to the dog's paw pads!
DO NOT Cool Them Off Too Fast!
There is risk involved if you try to cool of a hyperthermic (too hot) dog too fast. Do not plunge a heat-stroke dog into an ice bath or cause their body temperature to change too quickly—they can go into a state of shock or experience DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation) which can cause sudden and massive bleeding.
First Aid Tips
- If they are conscious, offer them water
- Pour water around their head, neck, in their mouth, in their groin, or on their paw pads
- Bring them into an air-conditioned car or in the shade
- Take them to the vet as soon as possible
Video: Rescuing a Dog in a Hot Car
Signs a Dog Has Heat Stroke
A dog that is subjected to excessive heat and at risk of heat stroke and eventual death will exhibit the following symptoms:
Mild Heat Stroke (Provide water and cooling)
- thick saliva
Moderate Heat Stroke (Needs first aid)
- Heavy panting
- Thick saliva
- Drooping, red tongue
- Rapid heart beat
- Restlessness and nervousness OR
- Loss of energy, extreme lethargy
Severe Heat Stroke (Emergency)
- Rapid heart beat or cardiac arrest
- Rapid breathing or sudden apnea
- Bright red gums and tongue (injected)
- Dry mucus membranes
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Sudden death
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2019 Layne Holmes