How Would You Save a Dog in a Hot Car?

For Labor Day, my partner and I decided to take our dogs out of New York City to enjoy a long weekend upstate. We have cottages we love to stay in with a door that opens onto a yard, a meadow frequented by deer at twilight, and a short hike to the forest and a swimming hole. For people and dogs who want to escape the city it is a paradise. We spent that weekend playing outside, dodging thunderstorms, and hiking around nearby nature preserves. On Saturday we crated the dogs at the cottage and my partner and I spent the afternoon wandering through shops in town. We were excited to get back home to our pups when we were confronted with a terrifying sight and a difficult ethical dilemma.

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When we got back to our car, I was startled by hearing lots of barking in the deserted parking lot. Then, I saw him, a little black dog sitting in a white SUV next to our car. It was hot and the worst kind of soupy humid. The windows of the SUV were cracked, but we all know that doesn’t actually make a car safe to leave a dog in. The little dog was clearly distressed and unfortunately seemed even more upset by seeing us near his car; he became more and more agitated the longer we stayed. Reluctantly we climbed into our car. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I couldn’t leave without doing anything. Pulling my cell phone out of my purse I dialed 911 …

The benefits of vacationing in a small town was that the 911 operator didn’t laugh at me for making this sort of call. Instead he took down the information about where the car was parked, as well as the license plate number, and said that an officer would be coming by to check on the dog. It was a small town, I think officers have time to do things like check on dogs left in hot cars in places like that. I need to believe that’s the case. As I hung up the phone with the police and we drove out of the parking lot and back to the cottage where our dogs rested comfortably, I wondered how anyone could be so cruel to leave their dog locked in a car on the last day of August.

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That afternoon I posted to my Facebook and Twitter that I had made the 911 call and got a lot of feedback from friends. Most were supportive of my having made the call, talking about how it was the right thing to do, and their shock that someone would have been so cruel to a dog. Other, more radical friends suggested that a 911 call hadn’t been enough, that a dog’s life hung in the balance and that I should have acted. They suggested that after calling 911 I should have broken a window on the SUV to free the dog. I’m not suggesting that someone who does that is in the wrong, more so that it’s not an approach I would feel comfortable doing.

I don’t know what happened to that dog I saw this weekend. I like to think that the police got to him in time and somehow educated his family about the dangers of keeping a dog in a parked car. Of course I don’t know if this is what actually happened, if the police responded to the call, if the dog was OK by the time that they got there, if the family even would have cared about the dangerous situation they left their dog in. It was difficult to know what to do in that moment when we saw the dog. Although I have no way of knowing if my action of making the phone call was able to help the dog, I still believe it was the right decision, and in a really challenging situation was the most I was able to offer the poor dog.

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How about you? Have you ever been put in a position where you have seen someone abusing or otherwise endangering a dog? How have you responded? Are you more likely to call the authorities like I did, or do you adopt the take-things-into-your-own-hands approach to situations like this?

Photo: Boxer in red car by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Sassafras Lowrey, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.


.1 years ago

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Christine Jones
Christine J2 years ago

Very challenging situation. I'm sure most Care2 readers would do what they could. Of course, the best solution would be if people stopped leaving dogs and children in hot or freezing cars, thus avoiding the situation in the first place.

I was in a similar situation when my husband and I found a young child crying her eyes out, alone, and desperate for the toilet, in a car in a hotel car park. My husband dealt with the father in the bar (the less said the better, but let's just say I don't think there's ANY chance he'll risk leaving his child like that again) and I took the girl to the toilet and looked after her. The whole experience was just horrible. She was a pretty little thing and could have been snatched by a predator in a matter of moments. Doesn't bear thinking about.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Rosa Caldwell
Rosa Caldwell3 years ago

It is a misdemeanor in our state to leave a dog or cat in a car with the windows rolled up. I have found this several times and will go into the store and get them to announce there is an animal in the car that needs to be rescued. I have also called the police a couple of times. In two instances, it was a small local store and I went in and found the person before it was too late. Never, ever leave your animal in a car that can get over heated, nor in the winter time where it can freeze to death. This applies to children as well. We have had too many children and babies die being left in a hot or freezing car.

Lynn Carin
Lynn Carin4 years ago

I've encountered this many times during my travels... I have left 'flyers/notes when I didn't have flyers', have called 911, have actually waited for owner of car to return & confronted them, have actually gone into store/restaurant and told them situation, so many times, all required a different course of action. Some went favorably, some did not. I also had to learn lessons and change my ways of dealing with it because it was often 'heartbreaking' for me to watch an animal suffering in the heat and feeling helpless. I've never had to break a car window, but that action would only get me in trouble. Each time, I did my best though to get the owner to understand that this was NOT the right thing to do. Why bring your pet (in a hot car) in the first place if you (the owner) has to run errands, etc.? I just don't understand that. I wish people, IF they LOVE their pet - and, most do, would realize how HOT a car gets (for their unattended dog/pet) even with the windows rolled down an inch by having them have to do the same - give them a little sample of what they put their pet through 'unknowingly or unintentionally - at some point, we all must know the difference - sadly, trying to 'educate' people is NOT enough. I see this happen, too often, summer after summer. This not only happens to pets... it also happens to (some very young children)/infants. That's an automatic call to 911. Well, the question is: 'What would YOU do in the same situation?'

Jeannet Bertelink

I never leave my dogs in my car. For heat and burglary.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e4 years ago

The heat can be so strong now, people should take care.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

might break the car to the honest, then call 911 on them

Klaus Peters
Klaus Peters4 years ago

It is not enough to ring 911, but wait for their arrival of appropriate help and make sure, in this case a dog, is OK.

Vrishni S.
Rekha S4 years ago

Yes so what I would do is first take a good look as if the dog is just relaxed and its not even hot then you'll just get in trouble for breaking their window. But if I think that it is hot then I would judge is it an emergency and no time for anything then I will not hesitate to smash the window in and then call the police. If its not an emergency but the dog just doesn't look too happy then I would call the police anyway.