What To Do If You See a Dog in a Parked Car

The #1 rule of summer living is to never ever under any circumstances leave your pet in a locked car. And yet, each and every year in Minnesota and across the nation, dogs die because they were left unattended. It’s a tragedy, and it’s one that can easily be avoided — and you can help.

The Facts

1. Studies have shown that opening windows doesn’t significantly help keep cars cool, so cracking a window (or all the windows) does not guarantee a dog’s safety.

2. Parking in the shade also doesn’t mean your pet will be safe. If it’s 80 degrees outside, it only takes ten minutes for a car to heat up to 99 degrees, and parking under a tree doesn’t change that.

3. Heat stroke can begin to set in when a dog’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees. A dog’s normal temperature averages 102.5 degrees — it doesn’t take long to gain that additional 1.5 degrees.

What You Can Do

We know, we know: you don’t want to meddle. But a good dog owner also doesn’t want their pet in distress, so you can and should take action to keep the worst from happening. After all, it’s possible that the owner has good intentions and truly doesn’t know about the harm of leaving a pet in a parked car — this is your chance to educate and possibly even save a life.

1. Take down the car’s make and model number.

2. If you’re in an area with neighboring businesses, pop inside each one and request that an announcement be made over the PA system so you can find the car’s owner. You can grab a security guard, a manager, or even a cashier — they’ll be able to help you connect with whoever’s in charge to get the announcement made.

3. If you can’t find the car owner this way, give a call to the non-emergency number for your local police or animal control and wait for them to arrive. They’ll handle it from there.

Want To Do More?

1. The Humane Society of the United States has a great flyer on the dangers of leaving your pet in a locked car. Print it out and distribute it.

2. Collect the numbers of your non-emergency police line and local animal control, and keep them in your glove compartment so you’re ready to help, should you ever need to — or just save them in your phone’s contacts. Give the numbers to your friends too, so they’re prepared to help as well.

3. Ask businesses in your community to post signs requesting that customers don’t leave their dogs in cars while they shop. Heck, better yet, ask businesses in your community to post signs that dogs are welcome in their stores, so that dogs can come into the air conditioning and do a little shopping of their own. (Fun Fact: Sidewalk Dog has a “Dogs Welcome” window decal we’ll send for free to any business who wants one — just have them send their mailing address to woof@sidewalkdog.com so we can hook them up.)

4. Know the law. Minnesota is one of only 16 states in the nation to have a statute to protect animals locked in parked cars. It’s a 1988 law, and it reads as follows. Learn it, know it, and be able to speak to it if you meet with resistance:

346.57. Dogs and cats in motor vehicles

Subdivision 1. Unattended dogs or cats. A person may not leave a dog or a cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog’s or cat’s health or safety.

Subd. 2. Removal of dogs or cats. A peace officer, as defined in section 626.84, a humane agent, a dog warden, or a volunteer or professional member of a fire or rescue department of a political subdivision may use reasonable force to enter a motor vehicle and remove a dog or cat which has been left in the vehicle in violation of subdivision 1. A person removing a dog or a cat under this subdivision shall use reasonable means to contact the owner of the dog or cat to arrange for its return home. If the person is unable to contact the owner, the person may take the dog or cat to an animal shelter.

16 thoughts on “What To Do If You See a Dog in a Parked Car

  1. trista

    does Minnesota have idling laws? Would i be able to leave the car on, windows up and AC cranked with my automatic start? Thanks for your awesome website!

    1. Dana Sanchez

      Minnesota does in fact have an idling law. You cannot leave your vehicle running while unattended in warm or cold weather.

    2. Kristi

      You are allowed to leave your vehicle idling if it does not require a key and the car would turn off if someone tried to move (steal) it. However, leaving a pet in an idling car isn’t the best idea because there is always the chance the car & air conditioning could turn off.

    1. Deedee

      So don’t bring your dog to the cabin? So you do, and the car starts having problems on the way home and you need to pick up a part from the auto store in order to make it back the whole way safely? My guess is you’re not a dog owner or never been caught in a circumstance? Oh, and here’s another one I’ve done a few times: try moving across the country with your dog! You can plan dog-friendly trips all you want, but there’s always the unexpected. Or, do as you say and just leave the dog behind.

  2. Deborah

    Our state of Pa has finally started to pass better protection for animals. I certainly hope they follow your lead.. we’re getting there.. I’d probably bust the Window if I couldn’t find someone to get the animal out. I’d rather have a vandalizing charge than see a dead dog or cat.. maybe my lawyer could help fix that law after.. but at least they wouldn’t be dead..

  3. Holly

    Last summer I watched a dog sit in a hot car for 3 hours!!!!! I called Minneapolis Animal Control and told me there was nothing they could do. I had no idea there were laws like this and why did animal control refuse to help? So I would have been protected by the law to break a window and let the dog out myself? I wrote a very honest letter and put it on the idiot owner’s windshield.

    1. Dave

      You would NOT be protected by law for breaking into another person’s vehicle to free a dog. The MN law states that only police, fire, animal control or humane society agent can use force to gain entry to the vehicle. If you do it, you will be guilty of burglary or property damage. Call the police. If they don’t help, call the fire dept. or animal control.

    2. KB

      In Minneapolis you can call 911 about animals in cars. I have had to do that on a couple of occasions and they came right away. 911 can be used for both emergency and nonemergency calls, especially in cases like an animal in a hot car.

  4. Sharon Dee

    I would recommend calling 911 immediately! You do not know how long the dog has been in the car…..then take down the plate info, and then stay with the dog until the police get there….if the owners have not returned by then, they deserve to have their effing car broken into…I would not waste time running from store to store etc. I alerted the employees at a Target store in Bloomington a few weeks ago, about a dog dying in a car in their parking lot, and they said that they don’t get involved with these situations….morons….CALL THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY!

  5. Kaley

    What fine would I have to pay if I decided to break into a car if the police aren’t showing up soon enough? Sometimes it may be worth paying!

  6. Judy

    Yesterday someone left their sweet dog in the back of their pick up truck in the apartment complex i live in Newnan, GA. Granted, the dog was not inside the truck but never the less this poor dog left in the bed of the truck in 96 degrees was abuse.
    I tried to find who the truck belonged to but was not able to find the owner of the truck. The dog was not tied in but wouldn’t leave the truck. She was very timmed, seeming scared to leave the space she was probably told to “stay” in.
    I did get this poor hot girl a big bowl of water w ice and I put a note on their windscheild, also someone did call the apartment security officer.
    What can you do in this situation?

  7. Roline Bravo

    I just had a run in with my neighbor’s cousin. I’d seen an SUV in my neighbor’s driveway about a 1/2 hour prior to taking my dogs out ,only to discover that there were two dogs left in the vehicle., The SUV was parked in the sun with the windows partially rolled down, so I immediately called my neighbor and he asked if I’d like to speak to his cousin. His cousin said that he was just picking tomatoes and the dogs were fine. I told him he should take the dogs out, that it was too hot in the vehicle and that it was illegal. He said he wouldn’t and that he was leaving as soon as he was done picking tomatoes and if I didn’t like it, I could call the police, so I called the police. Once the officer arrived, the man attempted to lie and told the officer that he told me he was immediately leaving and that the dogs were fine. I told the officer what the man had ‘actually’ said, and that I was concerned for the dogs. The officer asked him what his plans were and said that arguing wasn’t helping the dogs and that the sooner they left, the better it would be for the dogs. I told the officer that I would have rather the cousin just come out and taken care of it and knew that leaving a dog in a hot vehicle is against the law in MN. The fact that my neighbor’s cousin continued to defend his his position of leaving the dogs in the SUV, led me to believe that he thought what he did was totally acceptable. I told the officer that I thought there would have been consequences. So I ask you … why is there a law if it’s not enforced? The penalty is a $25.00 fine, which seems like a reasonable consequence and possible deterrent to it happening again. Not to mention that I looked like the idiot.

  8. Linda Braun

    Just left Aldi in St. Paul,MN and I am so angry! A small dog weighing about 6 pounds was left in a vehicle in the hot sun for at least a half hour! Aldi has no intercom and the management and employees did not want to get involved – didn’t even want to let me use the phone to call police. Young owner came out and refused to take the dog out then went back in the store to continue shopping. The owner and his family did leave before the police arrived. The car next to them had a dog sitting in a hot car too, but the woman owner left quickly saying her dog was just fine. Why am I the idiot here? No real penalty for abusing your dog – $25.00 fine? You’ve gotta be kidding Minnesota!

  9. Charlene

    Today it was 98 degrees in Linnepaolis with a heat index of 100+. I am a dog walker & came across a pit bull in a car unattended with only two windows partially rolled down. I called animal control & they said they’d send someone. 30min later I drove past the car again, no help had arrived. I called animal control again, they said someone was in route, it would be another 20 min so they’d ask a police squad car to come. No one arrived for another 15min. Finally some negligent “owners” came outside & were acting like it was no big deal after I explained the dangers. Another 15min or so I saw Animal Cobtrol arrived they simple talked to the man with the dog & let him go. What good does it do to call Animal Control!?! I wish I would have taken matters into my own hands & brought the dog to the humane society.


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