The ABC’s of Helping a Dog Locked in a Hot Car

Do you ever take your dog with you in your car? I mean, most of us do, every now and then. It’s time out of the home and most dogs love a car ride. For a dog, ride equals play time, or walks, maybe a treat from a fast food eatery, at the very least its wind in the fur and a chance to share time with their best friend in the entire world! So, let’s say you’re out for a few quick errands and your fur kid is your co-pilot. Is it okay to run into Walmart and pick up a few things? How about dashing into Taco Bell to order because their drive thru is 12 cars deep? Could you, quickly, fly into Kroger’s to pick up dog food and a few things you need? Unless they are a licensed Therapy Dog, chances are most of these places are NOT dog friendly. Whats and owner to do?

So you run in with the best laid plans to only be a moment, a quick-in/quick-out type of thing. The next thing you know, you see a couple more things you remembered you needed… or the checkout lines are a mile long… or you see your best buddy from high school and he wants to catch up on the latest gossip… and suddenly it’s not been 5 minutes, it’s been 45 minutes. All this time, your furry plan has been waiting. They’ve been waiting, and looking, and seeing other people walk by, and maybe barking, or playing with the strangers, or just staring out with sad eyes. DOG’S in CARS DRAW ATTENTION!

Let’s layer on that it’s 85 degrees outside. Now, you did the right thing and cracked the windows, but how much can you really crack the windows? It’s a cruel world, and there are people out there that would love to make your dog, their dog. There are also tons of animal lovers who see a dog in a hot car and, without knowing you or the situation, automatically assume the dog has been in there for a really long time, and is in danger of heat stroke, dehydration, or worse. The doors are locked for the safety of the dog and for the protection of your personal belongings…. As we’ve said, it’s a cruel world out there. The chances are ever increasing that when you come out from your “quick” run into whatever place you sauntered into, you’ll be greeted in one of a few ways… none of them fun or welcomed.

  • Angry people surrounding your car, as if a protest has formed to “Free Rover”
  • The police are at your car, with your dog, ticket in hand
  • Your window is broken and your dog has been “freed” by someone trying to help them
  • You have various hate notes on your windshield

As the dog population increases, and people more and more consider their dogs a member of the family that ranks along side of spouse and kids, there are going to be more dogs invited on rides that end up in parking lots with the windows cracked and the doors locked. We also live in a society where people think less and act on impulse more.

Let’s face it, dogs draw attention in cars. People love animals, sometimes too much. If you see a pet that you believe is in distress on a super hot day, you will likely want to help it. Nobody wants to see a tragedy happening right before their eyes. But… is it YOUR business? If you feel the dog is in a weather related emergency situation, regardless if its too hot or too cold outside, is it right to act? If you do act, what is the right way to react? It’s a sticky situation, one that sometimes drives emotion, action from the heart, and it all happens in an instant.

Before we talk about what and when to take action… let’s explore some facts about dogs in cars in parking lots.

  • Research shows that an 80 degree day outside quickly becomes a 99 degree day inside of your car in as quick as 10 minutes, even if the windows are “cracked”

  • Cars with dark interiors will heat up even faster then those with a light color scheme on the dash and seats

  • People make decisions based on their needs, even though they are fully aware of the risk of leaving the animal in the car

  • Dog can suffer heat exhaustion when their body temperatures get just over 100 degrees

  • Cracking the window makes little difference against the sun beating down on your metal car

  • Leaving them with water, food and toys will not offset the quickly increasing temperatures in the car, especially if you’re going to be gone a longer time

What should YOU do if you see a dog locked in car on a sweltering day?

  • THINK! First and foremost, take a step back and think through the situation. Is it above 70 degrees outside? Is the dog showing any signs of distress? Do you know what distress really looks like?

  • Wait and watch. How long has the dog been locked in the car? If you’re just arriving, how do you know that the owner didn’t just leave and will be back quickly?

  • Observe from a distance. Your hovering around the car only excites and agitates the dog. Watch the dogs behavior from distance and assure you have cause to act

  • Take down info. Jot down the cars make/model/license #

  • Stay with the car. See if someone else can go into the store and have the owner paged

  • CALL THE POLICE. The police have ways to access the car that will not cause extensive damage. They can also handle the discussion with the owner.

  • Continue to monitor the dogs condition.  Do not hover around the car, knock on windows or engage. This will stress the dog out. Some dogs just nap or rest till their people get back.

  • Only break windows or access the cars interior as a last resort.  In some states it is legal to break windows and enter the car. However, other states still see this as vandalism and you could be liable. Also, there is a risk to the pet from glass… not to mention the risk to you if the dog becomes aggressive.

  • DO NOT confront the owner in a hostile manner. You don’t own the animal, even though you might care. Being angry and aggressive only escalates the situation. You can show concern but don’t overstep and escalate.

Steps you can take to assure your dog is safe if you do choose to leave them in the car

  • Consider the temperature before you make the decision to take them along. Is it 70 degrees or less, but above freezing?

  • Leave a note on the car window. If you have left the air conditioning on, or if you have other safety measures in place. These should not include the dogs name, your name or your cell phone number. This might stop someone from taking unnecessary action.

  • Park in the shade. You might have to walk further but a shady space helps to offset the quickly rising temps inside the car.

  • Choose a car that has light coloring on the interior. This also helps to keep things cooler.

  • Leave your dog with water. This will not help with heat exhaustion but will stave off dehydration.

  • Limit your trip out of the car to 5 minutes. Make a quick run inside, a REALLY quick run inside. Your dogs health might depend on it.

  • Make frequent trips to check in with your dog. If you’re going to be inside more than 5 minutes, or it turns into a longer than expected time span.

  • Invest in white or light colored mats or covers for the dash and seats. Covering the dark colors in your car will help to keep the temp lower.

  • Invest in technology to keep them cool. If your dog is a frequent traveler, maybe you need to consider things like Aluminum shade cover cloths, Breezeguard (allows you open the windows more than a crack and still secure your dog and belongings), remote temperature sensors that work through an app (you’ll always have eyes on the interior temp), cooling pads or jackets (help keep their body temp lower).

Quick Fact:
Some states have fines of up to $50,000 along with a charge for animal cruelty if a dog is injured, in distress, or dies while locked in a hot car.

As Dirty Harry once asked “Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?” and that should be what is running through your head when and if you decide to leave your dog in your car. Still your dog, still your choice… but carefully consider the situation, the time you’ll be out of car, and the risk to the animal, BEFORE you choose to leave them in a potentially deadly situation. I’m quite sure you dog would not leave you alone in hot car.

However, with proper planning, the correct equipment and tools, and a measured time out of car that is strictly adhered to… you can safely leave your dog in your car for a very short time.

On the other side, THINK before you ACT if you come upon a dog locked in a car on a hot day. Not every dog in every car requires you to become a Pet Social Justice Advocate. Be sure you know the situation and that the dog is in real jeopardy. How would you feel if you came out to your car after a quick bathroom break, only to find broken windows, police, and a mob waiting for you? Saving a dogs life by smashing a window is a great thing, if you’re really saving a dogs life. It’s a jerk move if you’re just overreacting to a situation you walked into.

Here’s hoping all dogs are safe, cool, calm, and allowed to enjoy the freedom and companionship that comes with a day out in the car! As long as we all make informed and intelligent choices, everybody wins!

That’s all for this weeks Dog Blog. We hope you found some new information, or something potentially helpful or educational. Remember, there are pages of blog information on various topics at our web home. We hope you’ll peruse the library and find more topics that interest you.

Until next week, we hope you and your fur kids are healthy, wealthy, and just love each other! We’ll see you next week when we find out what #FreddieSez!