As you’re walking towards your car on a blistering summer day, something catches your eye. Yep. It’s a dog locked up in a car. Now what? You look around and don’t see anybody that seems to be aware of the situation. Should you call for help? Break into the car yourself? Leave it and hope for the best?
If you’re a dog lover, your first instinct is likely to be to get help of some kind, so you call 911 to report the situation. But, as you wait, you can see the dog is in distress and you get more anxious. The urge to do something can be overwhelming. So you start to think about finding something nearby to help you break the window.
While this is an admirable thought, you need to be aware of the ramifications of such an action. In the past several years, there has been a spike in awareness of dogs being left in cars during hot summer days. Facebook is plastered with good intentioned images and stories reminding people to not do this. What’s scary though are the comments that are left on those posts. More often than not, people say they would break into the car to rescue the dog no matter what the consequences. However, those consequences can be surprising, and sometimes pretty harmful, to the person who was acting as nothing more than a Good Samaritan.
NOTE: At the time of this update (March 2019), laws shown in the image below have not changed. Please check with your local authority for updated information.
What Happens If You Break a Car Window to Save a Dog in a Hot Car?
In the US at the present, a few more than half of the states have some form of “Hot Car” legislation in place. Some states allow only law enforcement officers (and this can include animal wardens) to take action on a vehicle to release a dog trapped inside in hot temperatures. For some of these offices, relief actions can only be executed if the internal temperature is above a certain degree, assuming the officer can get a thermometer inside to check. Other states have laws or provisions that will allow a good Samaritan to take action but, and this is important, there may still be some consequences for that person – though they may not be as serious as those faced in states where no recourse is available.
For states where there is no permission allowed by either law officers or Samaritans, the penalties vary but can include felony counts revolving theft or vandalism, and the possibility of being sued is not protected against.
Keep Informed About Hot Car Laws Before You Act
It’s important to know what is allowed in the state you are in if you encounter such a situation. While anyone who loves dogs does not want to see them suffer or die due to heatstroke brought on by being left in a hot vehicle, considering the ramifications of taking action should be part of the decision in what can be done.
Fortunately, more and more states are putting Hot Car laws into place, making it less likely that anyone will ever have to make a decision about what should be done to rescue a dog left in the heat.
If you are going anyplace during the summer with your dog, you need to consider how to help keep him cool. You may think that having air conditioning in your car is enough – but what if it fails? Aside from that, you may be taking your dog to an outdoor activity like a picnic or party and there may not be adequate shade or water sources for your dog to use to keep cool. Some dogs even have medical conditions that hamper their ability to properly cool off. This inability to cool down can become a life-threatening condition called heatstroke.
Heatstroke happens when a dog’s panting is not enough to help their body eliminate heat. Aside from panting, your dog has sweat glands in his foot pads that help with the dissipation of heat, but this amount is minimal. A highly elevated body temperature can cause any of the following signs of an onset of heatstroke:
Heatstroke can happen in as little as 10 minutes and can cause irreparable damage to the brain, kidneys, and GI tract of your dog. It can cause death if not treated immediately.
Fortunately, there a plenty of products available to help. We’re going to look at just some of them.
Cooling Beds, Mats, and Pads
Dog cooling beds and pads are a great option for keeping in your car. Some are powered by electricity while most are not. These cooling devices contain super-absorbent crystals that can hold a large amount of water. Once filled with water, the crystals in the pad act via thermodynamics to provide a sensation of cooling as the pad absorbs heat from your dog’s body and helps to dissipate it into the surrounding area. This wicking of heat away from your dog is what helps to keep your pooch cool. While these are great products for helping keep your dog cool, it is recommended that they not be used outdoors in an open environment or exposed to direct sunlight. MyPetNeedsThat.com has a great list of cooling mats that have been reviewed to help you choose one that fits your needs and The Spruce has a list of beds to consider.
Cooling Collars and Vests
Cooling collars and vests, as the names suggest, are products that go around the collar area of your dog or are worn on the entire torso. This is key as these areas of your dog’s body are important in helping to prevent overheating. Some cooling collars look like a collar while others more resemble a bandana or towel that is wrapped around your dog’s neck. Vests are made to cover the back, stomach, and neck areas of a dog.
Regardless of the style, they all work basically the same way. Most are made of an extremely absorbent cotton material that can hold up to 400 times its weight in water. The collar is made wet by soaking with water then chilled or frozen. As the water evaporates, it works to keep your dog cool.
PawGearLab has a great article that talks about the best dog cooling vests and explains a bit more about the features to look for when making your choice on which wearable cooling device is best for your dog.
Crate fans are available to mount on a dog crate and can provide additional comfort for your pet while traveling. It helps circulate airflow and can bring cool air to the crate if the air-conditioning is not strong enough to normally reach that area. These are available is several sizes and the power of the fan can vary. Some crate fans are battery operated while others will need to be plugged int your vehicle’s electrical system (usually an adapter is made available with the purchase). There are even solar powered units available. Check out TopDogTips.com for a list of their best-rated dog crate cooling fans.
In general, for traveling, the beds, mats, pads, and fans would be suitable to have on hand while the vests and collars would be the choice for outings away from a vehicle. In part, this is because these products are readily portable, and, more importantly, they provide contact to the parts of the body that veterinarians recommend are addressed if signs of heatstroke happen. According to Dr. Karen Becker of Mercola Healthy Pets, “Concentrate the cooling water on her head, neck and in the areas underneath her front and back legs.” By nature of the design of these products, those body points are where both vests and collars should be making the most impact for a dog and therefore help to prevent over-heating in the first place.
I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!