Dogs In Hot Cars: How To Save Them?

Dogs In Hot Cars: How To Save Them?

Author WDF Staff


Summer is back! For most of us and our dogs, that means the return of nearly unbearable heat. We usually associate summer with holidays, having fun on the beach near the sea or the lake, cocktails, and sunbathing. We can imagine having a great time during the summertime.

One important thing we must not forget is to take care of our dogs that might have a tougher time battling the heat than we do. Imagine wearing a warm sweater all the time during the warm summer weather and you will understand how our pups are feeling.

Most of us dog owners are aware of the rule when it comes to heat, cars, and dogs. The rule is:

Do not leave your dog in the car!

This rule applies even if you are “just” going to be away for a short while or “just” going to get something from the store.

dog waiting

Heat in such a small, closed, metal space can rise dramatically in an incredibly short period and dogs can have a heatstroke in before you even realize what is going on.

We are sure that most of us are responsible dog owners and would never leave our dog in the car during a big heat, but the question remains, what do we do if we encounter a dog locked in a car in the sun? Are we obliged to do something? Can we suffer consequences if we take action? Are there any authorities or contacts we can get in touch with? Will they respond on time?

We are very sensitive when it comes to leaving your dog in a car so we made a helpful list that will give you information about what to do and how to react. Hopefully, we can answer some basic questions you might ask yourself if you find yourself in a situation like this.

1. Learn and be informed

Some of the most important things you need to know are the facts and laws of your country or even your city.

Most of the countries in the world have some sort of law that describes animal health and wellbeing. Some can be written better or worse but the fact is that you need to know them to know what is the correct and legal way to approach a potentially dangerous situation.

Some states or cities can have phone lines that are dedicated to such emergencies and if you do not wish to save their contact in your phone, you might as well learn the names of these services so you can easily and quickly get in touch with them if something like this happens and you encounter a dog locked in a car. Learn the contact information of animal control in your city or country and the non-emergency number of your local police station. Having a non-emergency contact from the police station is generally a good lifehack. It can come in handy in all sorts of situations.

The worst thing that can happen to you is that you find yourself in such a situation and you do not know where to look for help. Every second is important for the poor dog locked in a car that has quickly rising temperatures.

2. Write down the registration of the car

You must write down everything you can about the car. Check what model the car is, its license plate, color, the street where it is parked, and try and take some pictures if you have your camera phone close to you.

Irresponsible owners that leave their dogs in their cars are often not taking proper care for their dogs even in their own home. If you decide to call authorities it is a good idea that you have as much evidence as possible and that way you can be of assistance and help put that dog in proper care. All of this evidence you have taken down or photographed can be used when charges are made against the person that left their pet in their car.

Different states have different laws for animal abuse and before you decide to do anything, make sure you are familiar with what those charges are and who can file them.

For example, New York will charge you 50$ - 100$ fine if you have left your pet in the car but only if the animal is not in distress when an official comes to the scene, if however, the animal is suffering, you might be charged with class B misdemeanor.

The state of California has a law that says you have to pay a 100$ fee if a police officer finds your pet locked in a car and if that pet sustained injuries because of that, you can face up to 6 months in prison with extensive court fees.

The state of Idaho will charge offenders who leave their dogs in their car with a misdemeanor the first time, but repeated offenders can be charged a fifth-degree felony.

sad dog in car

3. Try and find the owner

If you find a dog in a situation like that and the car is situated near some places of business like grocery stores, salons, gyms, or any other type of place, try and get their manager or some authority figure that can help you announce over the intercom or speakers.

Most of the dog owners aren’t bad and it is quite possible that they just wanted to drop by and do a quick errand and got held up. If the animal in the car is not in bad shape and you can see it is alive and well, try and find the owner. If they hear that their beloved pet might be in danger, 99% of them will run out to check their pet. It is not the end of the world if someone left their dog in the car, it is just a potentially very dangerous situation.

If you managed to reach the owner, try and talk to them politely and see if they are informed about the dangers of leaving their pet in their car. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is spread awareness about potential dangers and hope that people will do what is in the best interest of their dogs.

4. Calling the authorities

This is the part where being well informed comes to your and the dog’s advantage. Knowing your town’s emergency and non-emergency contacts can mean the difference between the dog’s life and death.

Usually, there is an animal shelter in all bigger towns, and the first contact you think about should be them. Call your local vet and ask if there are any signs you should look for so you can assess the animal’s physical state. The vet will tell you what symptoms of heatstroke you should look for and in dogs these symptoms are dark tongue, restlessness, heavy breathing, panting, and vomiting. These symptoms can be seen and observed just by seeing the dog.

The last resort is to call the police. Check with them and see what are your options and how they are most likely to react. Ask if there is an officer that can come to the scene and if there is none available, check what are your legal options and what is the best way to approach the situation.

Important contacts to know:

  • Your local non-emergency police contact
  • Firefighting department
  • Your local vet
  • Local animal control
  • Local animal shelter

It is worth mentioning that emergency 911 services, as great as they are, are not obliged to answer your call about an animal emergency. 911 services are for human emergencies ONLY. They already are understaffed and you will most likely waste time if you are contacting them about dog emergencies. It is a lot better that you learn your local contacts that are most likely to respond.

dog in car looking

5. Stay at the scene

This is a very important thing to keep in mind. It is incredibly important to remain at the scene and keep a close eye on the dog and physical conditions it is in.

Heatstroke in dogs can come extremely quickly so you might be forced to intervene quickly.

It would be best if you or somebody else remains by the car and keep a close eye on the dog while you are trying to follow step 3. If you are not able to contact the owner, make sure that you prepare enough cold water for the dog when you eventually get him out of the hot car.

It is also important that the person who stays by the car is familiar with the symptoms we mentioned earlier.

6. Be mindful of the time

In these types of situations, time can be of the essence. Before you call the authorities, remember to ask them what their estimated time of arrival will be. The quicker they arrive, the sooner the dog will be out of the danger zone.

As we said, time is extremely important and if the authorities take too long to come to the scene, you might be forced to take action. If you start to notice that the dog’s state is deteriorating and getting worse by the minute, take the necessary steps to remove the dog from the car.

A good idea is to have a witness that can back you up and take this step only after you tried everything else before. Taking this step can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Check first if the car is locked and if it is - great. Help the dog exit the hot car and give it enough water and shade. If the car is locked, check the boot and all of the doors. The last resort is removing the window from the car. Remember to do that in the safest possible way and avoid getting cut or hurt. If you want to help the dog that is in danger, you will not be able to do that if you have to help yourself first.

After removing the window, take the dog in shade and try to cool it down. The best cooling way is to provide enough water, shade, pouring water on the dog, or getting some ice from a nearby bar or cafe.

When the dog is out of harm’s way, wait for the owner and authorities and explain calmly why you did what you did. Remember to explain in as many details as you can and describe the symptoms and situation you found the dog in. Most places will not charge you anything nor should you suffer any legal consequences.

Besides that, we strongly believe that this is the only humane thing to do and it is certainly something we would do in this situation. It is our human nature to feel scared and worried about another living thing that is in immediate danger.

dog on backseat

7. Make sure the dog is safe

This is something that needs to be mentioned more than once. Just because the dog is not in the hot car anymore does not mean that the danger has passed. Heatstroke can happen even after the dog is out of the car so you must give the dog enough water as soon as possible. Pour some water over the dog’s coat and if it is not getting any better, immediately call the vet with an emergency.

Calling the vet is a good idea regardless. Ask if there is anything else you can do and tell them what resources you can reach and the vet will be able to tell you how to approach the situation and what to do next.

After that, the dog will need at least half an hour so their temperature can be stable again so try and get the dog in an air-conditioned room as soon as possible. Have the dog lay on the cold floor and keep an eye on them while they are going through this process of getting better.

8. Awareness

There is only so much we can do as individuals and even if we do help one or two dogs, there are still hundreds of animals dying of heat exhaustion each year. There is not much we can do about bad dog owners but hopefully, we can do something about the uninformed ones.

A good thing we can do is spread awareness between our friends and family of dog owners. Remind them to leave their dog at home if they have things to do in places that do not allow dogs. It is not always easy or some dogs cannot stay home alone without supervision so it is a good idea to organize a friend or a family member to watch over your pup.

Try and organize your errands so that you can take proper care of your dog and provide them with proper supervision. There are different services such as doggy daycare that are more than happy to give you a hand in watching over your dog.

You can also ask your local businesses to place a notice that will remind dog owners not to leave their dogs in cars during hotter months of the year.

One of the most important things we all should do is to find out if our towns have a law regarding leaving dogs in cars and if there is none, start lobbying for it. We can make petitions and attend city hall meetings with our city council demanding one. People might get sensitive about this topic if there is a structural change that is defined by law.

The American Veterinary Medical Association stated that there are hundreds of animals dying from heat exhaustion each year and if we all follow these guidelines maybe we can help lower these dark statistics.

World Dog Finder team