Every summer we see news headlines of humans who leave their dogs in a hot car and the animal perishes from heat stroke. Some people take their dogs in the car when running errands, thinking it will only “take a minute”. After a week of actually tracking this, my shortest errand took 15 minutes.
Here are just a few of the tragic stories found recently on this topic and the legal outcomes:
– “Dog Dies in Hot Car while Owner Enjoys State Fair” – The owner attended the state fair with his girlfriend and left his Labrador retriever in the car for 4 hours. He received no jail time and was only put on probation, which prohibits him from possessing companion animals.
– “Cop Leaves K-9 Locked in Care Overnight, Dog Dies” – This policeman left his German shepherd in the car in his cruiser overnight in the garage. He received no legal repercussions. The Sheriff’s Department said he was “reassigned to other duties.”
– “Several Dogs Found Dead in Parked Car at Walmart” – The owner said she went shopping and left the car windows closed but the air conditioner on. Purportedly one of the dogs ‘turned it off.’ Charges are pending, but the maximum in this state is a Class B misdemeanor, resulting in one year jail time if convicted.
– “Dog found dead from heat exhaustion in car” – A student employee at a local pet care facility had two dogs in his car, but found out he could only take one in the facility. He left the other dog in the car for 5 hours; it was 87 degrees outside. Charges are currently pending, but he can only be charged with a misdemeanor in this state.
When you evaluate these events, most are committed by owners who profess to be dog lovers and in most cases they are. Whether through ignorance or neglect, the outcome is still the same. The sad truth is we need more education for dog owners regarding the dangers of leaving your pooch in a hot vehicle.
Let’s cover the “parked car” facts first.
- The temperature in a parked car, even in the shade and with the windows partly open, can rapidly reach a level that can cause nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or even death in a matter of minutes.
- When it is 85 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can soar to 120 degrees in just a half hour, even with the windows cracked.
- Most of the temperature rise in a hot car takes place in the first 15 to 30 minutes.
- It is not just the ambient temperature but also the humidity that can affect your pet
- Dogs pant to cool themselves and release heat through their paws. They basically do not sweat and cannot cool themselves like we can.
- Pets have been known to accidently jump into a car with the door inadvertently shut with the pooch inside. This could easily happen while bringing groceries or other items into the house.
- Dogs with short noses, such as pugs, are more easily prone to heat illness as are dogs with thick coats, such as Siberian huskies and Pomeranians.
- Heavy panting and/or drooling
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble breathing
- Disorientation, stumbling or poor coordination
- Diarrhea, vomiting, weakness
- Excessive thirst
- Red tongue and lips that can turn bluish
- Collapse or loss of consciousness
- Respiratory arrest
You are in a shopping center parking lot and notice a dog locked in a car with the windows barely open or totally closed. You note some of the heat stroke symptoms listed above. What can or should you do?
- Write down the description of the car: color, model, make, and license plate number.
- Have a friend or another person keep an eye on the dog. Don’t leave the pup alone until situation is resolved!
- Go to the stores around the parking lot and have the owner paged. Many stores have security personnel that are able to take action.
- If the owner is not found, call the police.
- If police do not respond or are slow to respond and the dog’s life appears to be in imminent danger, try to find a witness (or several) who will testify to the emergency situation.
- Take steps to remove the suffering animal from the vehicle, and if possible wait for authorities to arrive (see below for a discussion on this topic).
- If the dog exhibits heat stroke signs, take him to an emergency vet!
- You removed the dog from the car but feel he must be cooled before getting to the veterinarian. What now?
- Immediately move the animal to a cool, shady place if possible.
- Wet the pup with cool water. Target the belly, chest, head and neck. Do not apply ice as it can actually constrict the blood flow and prevent cooling.
- Fan vigorously to promote evaporation. This process will cool the blood, which reduces the dog’s core temperature.
- Allow the pup to sip some cool water or chew ice.
- Get to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible for further treatment!
I feel certain if the situation was dire I would be able to force my way into a car to rescue a dog. This should be a last resort. It sounds heroic, but how do you break a car window? First try to have emergency personnel perform a rescue. They have the tools and expertise to handle the situation. Even though it is illegal in some states to forcibly enter an automobile, some states like Tennessee specifically have laws allowing a citizen to use force after calling 911 and if there is no other way in. Search for something heavy and blunt, like a tire iron, brick, or 2 x 4. Do not use your hand. Break out the window opposite the pet if possible.
Be aware that 14 states and many municipalities have laws that specifically address the problem of animals left in cars in extreme temperatures. These laws often authorize law enforcement officials to enter a vehicle and remove the animal. Even states without these provisions may consider leaving an animal in an enclosed car to be animal cruelty. Be aware there are legal ramifications depending on the laws in your area. You could possibly face criminal charges, like criminal mischief or vandalism. You could also be civilly liable for any damages. That is a chance you must be prepared to take. In reality would the dog owner or police actually prosecute your action? My opinion is probably not because of the ire of dog lovers everywhere.
What resources are available to provide education about this situation?
The danger of leaving a dog in a hot car is reported frequently by news media and animal groups. As a dog lover what can you do to help educate owners? The Red Rover website has a plethora of materials to download and order. “Is your dog cool?” fliers are meant to be shared and passed along to other animal lovers. You can print out other leaflets to leave on cars. So check out this web page and print the signs provided. Keep some in your car and don’t be afraid to put these on a car or give to business owners to display.
Share the video – “Watch what happens to a chocolate lab left in the car on a hot day.” – http://youtu.be/lu9Og8y4-fI on social media. It is an excellent visual to get the point across to those people who are not convinced this issue is a deadly.
Practice Basic Summer Safety
Our dogs can struggle with the heat in everyday life, not just when left in cars. It is always good to practice basic safety on these hot summers days and nights to ensure the health of your golden retriever.
- Limit exercise on hot days
- Adjust the duration and intensity of exercise on hot days. Limit exercise to early morning or late evening. Be careful with dogs that have white-colored ears (more susceptible to skin cancer) and short-nosed breeds like pugs (difficulty breathing).
- Asphalt and concrete get very hot and can burn your pet’s paws. A simple test to determine how hot is too hot is to press the back of your hand on the surface for 10 seconds. If you have to remove your hand, do not walk your dog.
- Provide shade and water. Carry water with you when exercising to keep your golden hydrated. If your pet is outside, make sure she has protection from heat and plenty of fresh cold water. Tarps and tree shade work well because air flow is not restricted. A dog house is NOT a solution; in fact it intensifies the heat. Of course, the best solution is to keep your fur baby inside in the cool air conditioning with you.
- To fan or not to fan? Because dogs sweat through their feet, a fan does not cool off pets as effectively as we cool off.
- Hot days, cool treats! There are many great refreshing recipes to cool your dog on the inside. Here are just a couple links: peanut butter popsicles and an ice lick by freezing toys, bones, and chicken broth into a cake mold.
- Treat a pet suffering from heatstroke per the instructions above. Know the warning signs and move your dog to the shade or air conditioning. Run cool water or damp cool towels over her head, neck and chest. Let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Immediately take her to a veterinarian.
- Prepare for power outages. Before a summer storm knocks out the power in your home, create a disaster plan to keep your golden retriever safe from heat stroke. Check out these instructions from the Humane Society.
- Don’t run errands with your dog. Here are some alternatives to leaving your dog in the car.
- Use the drive-through for errands when available.
- Bring a friend to play with your dog outside while you run your errand.
- Shop at pet-friendly stores where your dog is welcome to accompany you.
- Eat at outdoor cafes that allow your dog to sit with you.
- Leave your dog at home!!!