What to Do if You See a Dog Left in a Hot Car

I leave my dog in the car from time to time.

I live in a coastal town where the mornings are cloudy, and we have a cool sea breeze. My dog waits for me while I run in to pick up a prescription or whatever it might be.

I love my dog very much, but I know some people would find my actions inexcusable.

There are, of course, very serious risks to leaving a dog alone in the car, and anyone who does so has to accept those risks:

  • The dog could bite someone who decides to reach through the window.
  • He could get poked or teased by kids (or adults).
  • He could get injured if another vehicle backs into the car.
  • He could get stolen.
  • If it’s cold enough, he could even get hypothermia or frostbite.

And then there is one of the most serious issues – hot temperatures and how quickly a car heats up, even in the shade. A dog trapped inside can overheat and die in just a short period. You can read about the signs of heat stroke in dogs here.

So what should a dog lover do if she spots a dog left in a hot car?

Obviously, you have to use some common sense. But if you're very concerned for the dog, what are some realistic options to consider?

Dr. Jeff Werber is a veterinarian with Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles. He does not take the dangers of hot cars lightly. On a 75-degree day, he said a car can heat up to 100 degrees in just 10 minutes.

If you come across a dog left in a hot car, he said you have to use your best judgment based on the unique situation. In general, he recommends the following:

  • Evaluate the dog’s situation. If the dog is alert and responsive to you (and probably barking!), then you have a little more time. If the dog is lying still and not responding, or if the dog is "salivating all over the place" you may have a much more serious situation.
  • Consider calling the police or fire department. They can help you get the dog out, but keep in mind they may take "forever" to arrive.
  • Quickly knock on doors or go into stores. Depending on where the car is parked, you may be able to locate the owner by quickly knocking on doors or by running into nearby stores.
  • Push down on a window. Most people will at least leave the windows cracked for the dog, which you can try to yank down. This is usually easier and safer than trying to break the window.
  • Consider the legal issues you may face. You have to weigh the issue of doing the right thing and being a Good Samaritan vs. the legal consequences you could face for breaking into someone’s car and removing a dog. Every area will have different laws in place.
  • Break the window. Obviously, you don’t want to jump to breaking the window immediately, but if the dog’s life depends on it, then you may feel there is no other choice.

As a veterinarian, Werber said he would not hesitate to break a window to get a dog out if he felt the dog’s life was in danger.

Hopefully, none of us will ever come across such a situation, but it's better to be prepared and think about what we might do ahead of time.

Have any of you ever helped a dog that was left in a hot car?