What to Do if You See a Dog in an Unattended Car

PSA: It’s hot as H-E-double bully sticks outside, and we know you want to get out to enjoy the beaches, BBQs, and beer, but keeping your dog safe in the heat is important, too.

One such precaution is never leaving your dog in an unattended vehicle with no temperature regulation. In addition to following this golden rule, it’s important to know what to do if you see another woofer in an unattended vehicle.

The Facts

1. Cracking a window doesn’t help. Studies have shown that opening windows does not affect the temperature inside the car enough to cause it to be safe for an animal.

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 (yikes!). Shade or not, it’s gonna be hotter than Hades in there real quick.

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, so it doesn’t take much to spike it into danger territory.

What You Can Do

Your good intentions and education on the subject may go a long way for a dog in distress. There are a number of reasons why someone might leave their dog in an unattended vehicle (including not understanding the risks!), so it’s important to know how to identify and dissolve a dangerous situation before you go hurling an axe at a window. Think of yourself as an educated hall monitor here (but, like, a cool one who saves dogs).

First, know the signs of distress in a dog:

  1. Excessive panting and/or drooling
  2. Lethargic, unresponsive behavior
  3. Wide, stressed eyes
  4. Dark red gums and tongue
  5. Pacing and/or attempting to escape (i.e. clawing at windows or dash)
  6. Vomiting or diarrhea

Note: A dog in a car does not automatically mean a dog in distress. Many people who travel with their dogs, including those who bring their woofers to faraway shows, agility trials, or other dog-centric destinations, take precautions to ensure their dogs’ comfort, like sun shades, aluminum blankets, cooling vests, access to fresh water, leaving the A/C on, and using an app to connect their car temperature to their phone to ensure it stays on. Tesla’s new “Dog Mode” is another testament to the possibility of dog-in-car safety. See these things and a dog who looks comfortable and collected (besides his pawsible excitement that you’re at the window)? Then he most likely is.

If, however, you’ve identified sign(s) of distress, it’s time to get that pup some help! Here’s what to do next:

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.

Success Stories 

One such instance was described by one Sidewalk Dog community member, Lauren Bergman. “Recently, I was at my chiropractor’s office, which is next to a restaurant. It was about 75 degrees outside,” she said. “Someone noticed that a dog was locked in a car, and that he looked really lethargic. We tried to find the owner but couldn’t, so we called the local police department. Two officers came and they were able to open up the car. They had a thermometer that they used and it was over 100 degrees in the car. They went into the restaurant and found the owner and told her that she needed to take the dog home or to a vet. She said that she thought he was fine in the car, until they told her how hot it was inside. She still didn’t want to take the dog home, however. They told her she absolutely had to and then they wrote her a citation. Even though it was a tricky situation, the police officers were very kind and helped make sure the dog was safe.” 

Suzanne Carter, another Sidewalk Dog community member, shared her experience with owners not understanding the risks. “Several times I have witnessed this and I always going to the store where the manager is and report it and say action needs to be taken immediately,” she said. “I wait for a couple minutes, and then I go out to the car and wait for the owner to come out. They always seem contrite as if they didn’t know it would be so hot.”

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 spread the woof.

2. Collect the numbers of your non-emergency police line and local animal control, and keep them in your car or phone. Always be puppared! 

3. Ask businesses in your community to post signs requesting that customers don’t leave their dogs in cars while they shop. 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. Channel your inner Elle Woods: know the law in your state (and be prepared to speak to it if met with resistance). Currently, there are 31 states that have laws regarding protecting animals locked in parked cars. But before ya go busting out windows, sniff out the laws in Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, and Washington.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to keep your pup safe and there’s nothin’ cooler than that. Keep those puppers chill, and spread the woof!

(Photo by OLGA VASILYEVA on Unsplash)

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