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What to Do When You See A Dog in a Hot Car

What to Do When You See A Dog in a Hot Car

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 30, 2012. We are republishing it for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Most of us are all too familiar with the feeling of dread that comes upon us when we pass by the window of a car and realize that a dog has been left inside on a hot day.  What should I do?  Do I break the window?  Do I call the police?  Do I try to find the car owner? There’s no easy answer, unfortunately, and those decisions are ones that only you can make, but now you can be better prepared for your next encounter.

“My Dog is Cool” is a campaign designed by the RedRover animal protection charity to educate people about the dangers hot weather poses to dogs. Through their “Don’t Leave Me in Here — It’s Hot!” fliers and posters, you can have what you need on hand to try and influence the behavior of dog guardians who need a reminder about the dangers of hot cars.  These are great to place on a windsheild of an offender’s vehicle or to hang on the door of a local business willing to notify their customers that leaving pets in the car is not okay during warm weather.

RedRover advises that if you see a dog in distress in a hot car, you should call the local animal control agency, police or 911 right away and, if possible, you can also try to find the dog’s owner by going into the adjacent business and making an announcement.

RedRover provides the following signs of an animal who is in danger of  death by heatstroke:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Disorientation
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Respiratory arrest

According to RedRover, at least 14 states and many municipalities have laws that specifically address the problem of animals left in cars in extreme temperatures. And some states without these provisions may consider leaving an animal in an enclosed car to be animal cruelty.  However, many of us have hit a road block when calling the police to report these crimes as the dispatcher or the department itself often don’t consider these situations a priority.  Heat stroke can take hold in just 10 minutes or less, so sometimes the dog simply cannot wait for authorities who may or may not be on the way.

The last time I came upon a dog in a hot car, I waited by the vehicle for the owner to appear.  He approached slowly with his companion carrying their Starbucks coffees, in no hurry and with no awareness of the dog’s plight.  Truthfully, I found it hard to maintain my composure as I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but I wasn’t the one who needed to be embarrassed. He needed to know that someone cared about the soul in his car. He needed to feel shame that a mother and daughter were standing by his sedan, looking after his dog, even though he had not.  He needed to know that I had called the police.  Though he left in a hurry reassuring me over and over again that his dog was fine, I do hope he’ll think twice about taking the dog along for the ride again on a summer day.

I’d love to hear from some of you have intervened for an animal in a hot car.  How did you handle it?  Were you successful?  Any helpful tips to share?


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12:45PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

I was in the parking lot of the Palo Alto VA Hospital, and I called the VA police for a cute little white dog who was in a vehicle with only a cracked window, temperature was in 80-90, dog's nose at the window crack, and the VA Police came and said the dog looked okay to him and left. I felt totally helpless and waited as long as I could because I had an appointment, I went in and reported it once again over the PA system, when I returned to my car, the dog and car was gone. I always wondered if I helped. I hate it when people do that. They also do it to old people. They get out and forget to lower automatic windows leaving the person unable to help themselves except to open the doors, which many do not know how to do.

11:47AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

Only time an animal should be left in the car for a "moment" (and let's be honest that can be longer than a minute) is if the car is on and the A/C is full blast. We've done it that way when we have gone on roadtrips, and we don't worry (we put notes up saying the A/C is full blast, as well as put what the inside of the car registers at when the A/C is on), so there is no need to break the window. We also leave the doors unlocked because we have no spare key, but honestly only a fool would try to take anything from an unlocked car with two big dogs that like to bark in it.

10:06AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

I did confront a dog owner once. She was very defensive claiming she was only going to be in the store for a few minutes. I had sat almost 10 in my car waiting for a friend and couldn't sit there without rolling down my windows. I'm not sure how long she'd been in the store but she took the time to put her kids in the stroller. So I know the dog was in the car for more than 10 min. The store owner was on my side and went out with her to give the dog water and make sure he was OK. Not sure if she'll ever change how she treats her dog? But I felt better than just walking by like I didn't see anything.

6:25AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014


7:16AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

Once I was getting out of my car at the Walmart parking lot when I saw a woman getting out of her car and leaving the dog inside. I approached her and offered to care for her dog while she shopped. She handed me the leash and the dog and I sat under a tree until the woman came out of the store. She was very nice.

7:13AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

At the beginning the article says that Josie, her husband , and a friend were traveling in the truck. Later, it was only the husband and a friend and the husband trying to contact Josie. It was a horrible tragedy that this poor dog had to suffer so much and end up dead on the road. So many bullies join the police force so they can bully people around and have the upper hand. Police departments should train these morons on how to respect animals and that there will be consequences to animal mistreatment. Sadly, those on the upper ranks are probably the biggest bullies.

5:35PM PDT on Aug 5, 2014

Thats good advice to call 911 but I am afraid an animal might not be an emergency to the police. If I saw an animal or a child suffering, I would break the window.

1:43PM PDT on Aug 5, 2014

Last time I came across this situation, I waited and talked to the young man who left his black dog panting in the car, and explained to him how it can be 20+ degrees hotter inside the car even with the windows cracked a little. He observed and acknowledged the very heavy panting of his dog, even tho he said he was "only gone 7 minutes". We talked about how he could've parked under a tree with shade and walked an extra few seconds. I then asked him if I gave him my car window sun shield if he would promise to use it - he said yes he would. I walked to my car - he followed - and thanked me for the sun shield. I'm hoping he is thinking twice about where he parks with his dog, and using the window shield.

6:28AM PDT on Aug 5, 2014

I'd like to put that owner in a hot car with no air and no way out to see how long it is before he has a hissy fit or cries!

1:29PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

I keep my dog with the air conditioner on, is that okay?

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