What to do if you see a dog in a hot car


I always get upset when I see dogs sitting inside a locked car, especially on a sweltering hot day. It takes less than 15 minutes for a dog to suffer brain damage or even death as a result of being trapped in a hot car.

Pet owners often wrongly think that they can just dash inside the grocery store or the post office and leave their dog inside the car. This is a dangerous line of thinking. Parked cars are “deathtraps for dogs,” according to PETA. That’s because pups can’t sweat like humans do, and they have no way to cool down other than their paw pads and panting.


And here’s another thing to know: It doesn’t matter if the car’s windows have been partially rolled down. Many pet parents think that if they roll down their windows a bit, then their dog will get a nice breeze and be A-OK. But The American Academy of Pediatrics says that’s the not case:

In terms of heat-rise over time, it makes very little difference whether a car’s windows are closed or partially open. In both cases, a car’s interior temperature can rise approximately 40 degrees within one hour, even when the exterior temperature is only 72°F.

How does a parked car get hot so quickly? According to Jan Null, adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, “Basically the car becomes a greenhouse. At 70 degrees on a sunny day, after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 104 degrees. After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees.”


In other words, leaving a dog in a car is an incredibly risky thing to do, and if you see a dog in this situation, you should consider helping this poor animal before it is too late. But what should you do? Follow these simple steps:

1. Call 911

The first thing you should do is call 911. Don’t wait until the situation is at a catastrophic level and you see the dog in true distress. Do it right away, as the officers will likely need time to reach your location and as other emergency calls may take precedence. By calling right away, you can help to ensure that help will arrive before it is too late.

2. Write Down The Car’s Description

Get the license plate number, make, model and any other identifying features of the car (missing hubcap, lei on the rearview mirror, bumper stickers, etc.). If you are with a friend, have them wait by the dog while you walk into all nearby businesses and ask them to page the owner of the car. Tell the employees that the situation is an emergency and you are worried for the dog’s life. Most will be very happy to page the car owner for you.


3. Smash The Window

This should be a last resort, but it is legal in several states. There are around 29 states that have laws to protect animals locked in parked vehicles. Go to this website to see if your state is on the list. If it is, that could mean that you are well within your rights to break a stranger’s car window if they have left their pet trapped inside. Reminder: Make sure to try all the doors before you break the windows! Perhaps one of them is unlocked.

How To Break A Car Window Safely

Choose the window farthest away from the animal (so that flying glass doesn’t harm the dog). Use a hard object like a rock or a tire iron to break the window, but aim your tool near the bottom of the window, right above the car door locks. Breaking a car window is much harder than it looks, and if you can only make a small hole, you will at least be able to reach in and undo the car locks. Once you make a hole, wrap a t-shirt or towel around your arm before you put your hand through the window. Now, unlock the doors and go around to the other door to get the dog out.


Hoorary, you just saved a doggy! By now the police have hopefully arrived, and they can help you handle the situation with the car’s owner. I know it might feel a little awkward to destroy a random person’s property, but here’s the thing: If you don’t, the dog could literally “cook to death” inside the hot car and that’s not something an animal-lover can just stand by and witness.

Oh, and obviously, all of these steps should be taken if you see a child locked in a hot car as well. (Although frankly, I might skip right to just breaking the windows in that situation!)

[h/t: Dodo Impact]

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About the Author
Bridget Sharkey
Bridget Sharkey is a freelance writer covering pop culture, beauty, food, health and nature.

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