Many of us have experienced that sinking feeling in our stomachs when we see a dog locked in a car on a warm day.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the most common cause of hyperthermia (heat stroke) in dogs is leaving a dog in a car with poor ventilation. Dog heat stroke is a medical emergency, so it’s essential to be aware of the signs and know when it’s necessary to intervene.
Check out these safety tips from Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund:
Never leave your dog in an unattended vehicle
Dogs are particularly susceptible to dying from overheating because they have a hard time staying cool. When we become overheated, our body cools itself through sweat and evaporation. But dogs don’t sweat through their skin like humans.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), on a 70-degree day, the temperature in a car can hit 89 degrees in ten minutes. On a hot day, the temperature inside a car can shoot up to 109 degrees in the same amount of time. Think cracking a window will cool things down? Think again. Multiple studies confirm that cracking a window doesn’t reduce the temperature.
Know your state’s laws
As of 2022, 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws addressing animals left in vehicles. The laws differ significantly—some only apply to dogs and cats (but not necessarily other animals); others only allow public officials, like police officers or animal control officers, to break into cars to rescue an animal.
“Good Samaritan” laws allow anybody to rescue an animal from a vehicle, but only if they follow certain steps first, like contacting 911. Fourteen states have Good Samaritan laws: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Check out the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s U.S. Animal Protection Laws State Rankings to see if your state has a law protecting animals left in hot vehicles.
Take action if you see a dog left in a vehicle
Whether your state has a law or not, if you see an animal in distress, call 911 immediately. Next, take a picture of the car and license plate on your phone. If there are nearby stores, notify the manager or security guard and ask them to page the car’s owner and give them a description of the vehicle and the license plate number. Hopefully, the car owner will return quickly after hearing the announcement. Finally, wait with the dog until the driver returns.
If you do live in a state with a Good Samaritan law, you might be able to rescue the dog yourself. Be prepared by reviewing your state’s law to ensure you follow the necessary steps, which usually include:
- Having a reasonable belief that the animal’s life is at risk.
- Contacting law enforcement first.
- Using no more force than is necessary.
- Remaining with the animal until law enforcement arrives.
- No matter where you live, the worst thing you can do is nothing.
Educate your community
Spread the word about the dangers of leaving animals in vehicles with Animal Legal Defense Fund flyers and social media graphics! Download and print the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s hot car flyer and hang them in grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other locations where people may leave dogs in cars. Just ask the business politely if you can hang it in their window or on a community bulletin board.
No animal needs to die in a hot car. Together, we can prevent these tragedies from happening.