It’s a situation none of us want to face: you’re out on a hot day and see a dog stuck inside a parked car, owner nowhere to be found. We all know this is a really dangerous situation — hundreds of dogs die of heat-related deaths in cars each year. Even if the windows are rolled down or the car’s parked in the shade, it can be lethal for the animal. You want to rescue the dog, but what can you do without breaking the law? Here are a few suggestions from the folks at Bags on Board.
Check if your state has “hot car” laws
Learning your rights and responsibilities as a bystander is something you can do right now. Some states have Good Samaritan laws that let you use “legal force” to break into a car and rescue a dog. Check out this table of state laws regarding companion animals left in parked vehicles, which lists what bystanders can or cannot do. In states with “hot car” laws, carefully note the steps you need to take so you’re not held criminally liable. What if your state doesn’t grant immunity for breaking into a car to rescue an animal? It’s up to you to decide if you want to risk arrest and a fine – plus the cost of any damages to the car – to save the dog’s life.
Note where the car’s parked and its color, make, model and license plate number. Collect photographic evidence, including photos of the dog inside the car with a date/time stamp and a screenshot from a weather app of the current temperature in your area. If there are any witnesses nearby, ask if you can have their names and phone numbers.
Try to find the car’s owner
Ask the employees at any nearby businesses if they’ll make an announcement alerting the car’s owner that their dog’s life is at risk.
Call the police or animal control
If you can’t find the car’s owner, or they refuse to listen to you, call animal control or the non-emergency number for your local police to report the situation. You’ll need to stay with the animal until help arrives. However, if the emergency services and animal control are busy, it may take a while for that to happen. And that might be too late for a dog trapped in a stifling hot car. With no cool, fresh air circulating, the dog will be unable to pant to cool down – which could lead to heatstroke and even death. This is why you should know your state’s Good Samaritan laws — it may be time to take action.
Rescue the dog
If the dog is panting, lethargic, has a seizure or collapses, it’s time to act. Call the police to let them know what you’re doing – and stay on the phone with them. Check the car for any unlocked doors; if you find one open, you won’t need to use force enter the vehicle. If one of the windows is open a crack, see if you can reach the door’s locking mechanism and open it. As a last resort, if you need to smash a window, choose one furthest from the dog to prevent injuring him. If you’re with a friend, consider having them record the rescue on your cell phone. Finally, be careful not to let the dog run away once the door is open or – if he’s scared – bite you.
Lower the dog’s body temperature
Once you’ve removed the dog from the car, you’ll need to get his body temperature back to normal. Take him to a shaded area or a car or building with air conditioning. Drench his body with cool (not cold or iced) water. Let him drink as much water as he wants. If the dog is unconscious, he will need emergency medical care. If you do leave the area with the sick pup to seek treatment, let the police know and leave a note on the car window screen for the owner. We’ve been talking about dogs being left in hot cars but it also happens to cats. Consider keeping copies of this downloadable “hot car” flyer handy to put on car windscreens anytime you see any animal left inside a stationary vehicle. Or you can order a supply of printed flyers (100 for $15) here. You can also get the message out with this “Don’t leave dogs in hot cars” car sunshade ($20).
Have you ever rescued a dog – or cat – from a hot car? If you’re up to sharing, we’d like to hear about your experience in the comment section below.