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See Something, Do Something: More States Make Laws to Save Dogs from Hot Cars

Summer is here—it’s a great time to take your dog to a pet-friendly beach or on your family vacation, but as pets hit the road, they are sometimes left in hot cars leading to suffering and even death. We have all faced the temptation to do a quick errand with our pet in the car thinking it will “just be a minute”.  But the truth is, that minute can quickly lead to ten if the checkout line is long or you run into your old next-door neighbor—but ten minutes might be all it takes, and depending on your state, it may be illegal to leave your dog at all.

This summer, Wisconsin joins a growing list of states where good Samaritans can rescue a pet from a car without facing civil liability.  “Hot car” laws already are in effect in Tennessee and Florida, will take effect in Ohio in August, and are under consideration in California, New York and Massachusetts.

So, what does that mean for you when you see a dog trapped in a parked car on a sizzling summer day?  In the states with “hot car” laws, concerned bystanders are allowed to break a window open to free the pet only if you have good reason to believe the pet is in danger; you have checked that the car is locked and there are no other means of entry; you call 911 or local law enforcement to let them know what you are about to do; and finally, you have to wait for the police or owner to arrive before leaving the scene.

Dog in Car

Although the list is growing, most of us don’t live in a state with “hot car” laws, so then what?  If you see a dog left alone in a hot car, take down the car’s color, model, make, and license plate number. Have the owner paged in the nearest buildings, or call local humane authorities or police. Have someone keep an eye on the dog and don’t leave the scene until the situation has been resolved.

Every year dogs, and cats, suffer brain damage or even die from heatstroke in as little as 15 minutes.  On a pleasant, 78-degree summer day, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 100-120 degrees in just minutes.  On hotter days, the temperatures in cars soar even more quickly.  Recent studies show that cracking the windows makes little difference.

In addition to the “hot car” laws, approximately 20 states have passed laws making it illegal to leave a pet unattended in a car when conditions make it likely for physical injury or death to occur.  This is serious business and our nation’s lawmakers are responding with appropriate measures.  We can also take this issue seriously by leaving our pets at home, even if they think they want to come with us, and by looking out for pets in dangerous situations.  Let’s make it a safe summer for pets!