Recently my Facebook and other social media feeds have been littered with at least one daily story of a dog being rescued from an idle, parked car. Some dogs are saved in time, but too often help does not come and tragedy occurs.
Is it ever okay to leave a dog in a car? NO. Under no circumstances should dogs be left unattended in a parked, idle car; the only exception is if the pet is left with another (adult) person in the car.
Outside temperatures can rise to lethal temps inside a confined vehicle, even with the windows cracked, or parked in the shade. On a 70 degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 104 degrees within 30 minutes. During the recent heat waves that have plagued the country, within 10 minutes an 85 degree day could turn a parked, idle car into a 104 degree oven.
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Animals cannot sweat like people, and they dissipate heat from their bodies very differently—plus, they are wearing “fur coats.” Additionally, their core body temperatures are naturally higher than humans. In order for dogs to cool their bodies down they initially pant in an attempt to cool the air they breathe. Their heart rate and blood pressure increase, and the veins begin to enlarge in further attempts to cool the core organs. Abnormally high body temperatures affect all of the major organ systems; core temperatures above 106 degrees F can lead to serious complications, heat stroke, and even death.
Currently, 22 states have laws that prohibit leaving animals in stationary vehicles, or that give legal protection to citizens who break a car window to rescue an animal from a car (1). Depending on the county/state laws, death of a pet due to being left in a car can lead to charges ranging from misdemeanors to felony charges. Certain felony animal cruelty charges can prevent people from owning pets in the future, but in most instances requires previous convictions of animal neglect/cruelty (2).
Law enforcement officials or animal control officers do have the ability to “break into” a car to rescue a pet, but there is a fine line, as different laws have varying degrees of what constitutes an emergency or dangerous environment.
So what should you do if you see a pet in a parked, idle car? First, call local animal control or 9-1-1. If there are additional bystanders, have them ask the building or parking managers to help find the car owner. As much you would like to save the animal, do not break the window or vandalize the doors in an attempt to enter until law enforcement officers, animal control, or property management are present. This will protect you from civil liability for property damage or similar charges.
Ultimately, prevention is key. Set an example and ensure that your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers know the dangers of leaving a pet in a parked car.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin