It’s one of the most terrifying things you can see when you’re out and about running errands: a dog trapped in a hot car, with the windows up and the engine off.
It’s even worse because the moment can feel so paralyzing. Should you do something or call someone? Should you take action at all, or have you misdiagnosed the situation? Maybe the owner will be right back?
In any sort of emergency situation, it’s always best to have a plan to follow before disaster strikes. In the guide below, we’ll walk you through the 9 steps you should take to save a potentially trapped pup.
The 9 Things To Do if You See a Dog in a Hot Car
1. Know Your Rights Beforehand
In some states, it’s legal to break into someone else’s car if you see an animal in jeopardy. In others, only certain people — such as cops or animal control officers — can do so. If you’re in the wrong state, smashing a window to save a dog could land you in trouble while the careless owner gets off scot-free.
If you consider yourself the kind of person who’d break a window to rescue a dog, it behooves you to look up the laws in your state now, so that you won’t have to risk running afoul of the police at a later date.
2. Make Sure You’re Reading the Situation Correctly
Certain cars nowadays — especially hybrids or electrics — are so quiet that it’s incredibly difficult to tell if they’re actually running. Before you grab a brick and aim it at the driver’s window, make sure that the dog is actually in danger. You don’t want to make a mess only to discover that the car was on and the A/C was running.
3. Check on the Dog
It’s very important to know how much time you have before you start taking action. To do this, you should check on the dog’s condition. If the dog seems fine, you can spend more time trying to contact the owner or authorities before you start breaking things. If, however, the dog is panting heavily, seems disoriented, or has collapsed, then you need to take more drastic action.
4. Take Down the Car’s Information
Write down the make, model, and license plate number. This information will help you track down the owner, and it can also prove useful for making sure they face consequences for their reckless actions. You can also take out your phone and document the situation so that there’s no way they can wriggle out of it later.
5. Have the Owner Paged
If it’s clear which business the owner is visiting (and the dog seems to be fine for the moment), then you can go in and have them paged. Having the owner come out and rescue their own dog is the best outcome for everyone involved, and it has the added bonus of giving you someone to yell at for being an idiot.
6. Contact the Authorities
If you can’t find the owner or you’re worried about the dog’s health, call the police. By dialing 911, you’ll get connected to a law enforcement officer who can advise you on how to proceed. This is crucial even in states that allow regular citizens to break into cars to rescue animals who are in danger, as it covers all your bases from a legal perspective.
7. Stick Around
Just because the cops have been called doesn’t mean the job is done. Heat kills, so it is important to be nearby and keep a gauge on the situation. Sadly, not all police departments take endangered animals seriously, so it could be some time before help arrives — and that could be too little, too late for the trapped dog. Stick around to monitor the dog’s health so that you can potentially take action yourself if the situation calls for it.
8. Make a Decision
If you live in a state that doesn’t allow Good Samaritans to rescue trapped dogs and the cops are taking their own sweet time showing up, then you’ll have a decision to make. You can break in to rescue the animal, potentially exposing yourself to legal trouble, or you can let things play out on their own. Remember, heat kills, so you need to let that guide your actions. If you decide to break in, though, it’s good to snag a witness who will back you up before you take action.
9. Help the Dog
Getting the dog out of the car is important, but if the animal is overheating, then they’ll need more help from you. Get them some water as soon as possible, and move them to a cool area, preferably one with air conditioning. You may need to pour water on their bodies as well, or if the dog seems seriously ill, rush them to an emergency vet.
How to Break a Car Window
Movies and TV have taught us that breaking a car window is as simple as gritting your teeth and punching the glass, but the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Most modern car windows are designed to withstand the impact of blunt objects, so you may have trouble smashing it even if you have a bat or a tire iron handy.
Instead, look for something hard and sharp, like a hammer, jagged rock, or screwdriver. Aim at the weakest parts of the window, which are the edges close to the door. Pick a window that’s as far away from the dog as you can, because you don’t want them to get covered in shattered glass.
How Hot Does a Car Get in the Sun?
We all know that a car can get unbearably hot during the summer heat, but how hot does a car get on a hot day? And perhaps, more importantly, how long does it take for a car to reach deadly temperatures?
First, we need to look at the variables: Sunny day versus cloudy day. A car parked in the hot sun at 95ºF can reach internal temperatures of 120ºF within an hour. Meanwhile, the dashboard and steering wheel can reach even hotter temps. Now, parking in the shade is a little better, with temperatures reaching 100ºF within an hour. In either case, these are dangerous extremes and not worth risking the life of your pet.
All of this supposes that you’re going to be the rescuer in this situation, so don’t let us down. Never take chances with your dog’s life by leaving them in a car with the windows rolled up, regardless of what the weather outside is like or how short you think your errand will be, because heat kills.