I know this topic has been talked about a lot lately, and that’s great! Especially since there are people who still don’t seem to get it. So here it is again. Do NOT leave your dog unattended in a hot car for ANY length of time.
Today it was 83 degrees here on Long Island. Hot, humid and sunny. Clearly no day for a little, furry creature to be stuck in a car. And yet I had the displeasure of walking out of the supermarket and being approached by a frantic woman who had noticed a Yorkie left in a locked vehicle with the windows barely cracked. Would you know what to do if you encountered this situation? The answer is not as simple as it may seem. You need to carefully navigate the needs and safety of the pet, your own safety and the legal implications of any actions you take.
First, it is important to know the laws where you are for your own protection. In some places, it is still illegal to break a car window with an animal locked inside. Also breaking a window is not easy, and can be hazardous in itself as pieces of broken glass can injure you and the pet. Also not all dogs are friendly, and you could be putting yourself at risk of getting bitten. Of course, if the animal is in distress, sometimes you need to use your own judgement and follow your heart. That being said, there are some things that you definitely should do.
The first thing to do, is assess the situation. In the case of today I approached the car to see the dog. Luckily, though he was panting and looking slightly uncomfortable, he was not showing any signs of distress.
The next thing to do is call 911! The police should be notified of the situation and given the license plate and description of the vehicle. They will send an officer to the scene to get the animal out of the car safely. The woman who approached me had not yet done this, so I picked up my cell and made the call. Since there were two of us, I stayed with the vehicle to keep an eye on our new friend, while she went back into the supermarket to try to locate the owner. If there is no one else in the immediate vicinity, you should stay with the dog while awaiting the arrival of the police.
Also, if possible, try to obtain documentation (ie. pictures). Since most of us today have smart phones, pictures are great for covering your own ass. This way, if you do need to break into the vehicle, you will have a time-stamped documentation of how long the pet has been in the car, and follow-up pictures or video which can prove that the pet was in danger or distress and in need of immediate action. In places where it is still illegal to break the window, this may or may not help you if the owner decides to pursue charges, but it certainly can’t hurt!
If the owner returns to the car before the police arrive, try not to start an incident. Some people just need a little education, but others can be very defensive. It is best to let them leave, making note of the make, model and license plate of the car and what time they left so that when the cops do arrive, you can provide them with all the necessary information.
Once the police arrive, they will get the dog out of the car safely. The police officer who responded to my call was able to jimmy open the door through the crack in the window. The owners arrived back shortly after (although well over 20 minutes from the time I first called 911) and after letting them know (perhaps a bit more heatedly than I should have) about how dangerous it was to leave their beloved pet in the car, we all got to leave safely. Hopefully they will take this experience to heart, and remember it the next time, they choose to go somewhere with their dog.