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What To Do If You See a Pet Left in a Hot Car

pugincarSo there are a lot of news stories, articles, and social media posts swirling around at the moment that all deal with one phenomenon that somehow keeps happening: people leaving animals in hot cars. Although 21 states have passed some kind of “hot car law” to make this act illegal, people keep leaving pets in hot cars – and these pets usually die. This has led to SOME of these states passing further laws that grant people the right to “take necessary steps to open a parked car to rescue any animal – in imminent danger due to heat or cold.”  In other words, law enforcement, animal control officers, and (in some states) everyday citizens, can break into the car to save the animal’s life. While this seems like it is a great idea, it has already sparked some debate online as to when vandalizing another person’s car is justified. Whether this means jimmying a locked door open, or smashing the window entirely, is up for the rescuer to decide if they must resort to such drastic means to prevent a loss of life. Here’s a list of things that you should do when you see a dog in a parked, hot, car, and their owner isn’t anywhere to be found:

  1. Assess the Animal’s Condition: Obviously the first order of business should be to quickly scan the animal in question and see how it is doing. If they are panting heavily and/or barking, it is a less crucial situation than a dog that is panting and laying on its side. Are their eyes open and attentive, or are they half-closed and look like they are about to pass out? If they are moving around (barking, panting, jumping/hopping around in the car), then that’s a good sign that they are not at risk of heatstroke YET. If they are barely moving, or moving very slowly (or not at all), and can’t keep their eyes open, then there is definitely a greater sense of emergency. In the case that the animal is not moving even after you knock/tap on the window, skip directly to step 5 on this list and call 911. Regardless of how the animal is, you need to seek some kind of assistance – but it helps to know the animal’s status first so you know how urgent it is and what course of action you should take. BY THE WAY: If the car is running, and the air conditioning is on, then you probably don’t have to worry, but you can wait by the car just in case. poodleincar
  2. Take Pictures of the Car & Try To Find the Owner Nearby: First you should stick around for a minute or so, and call out, “WHOSE DOG IS THIS?” a couple times to see if perhaps the owner is within reach, and just stepped away for a minute to make a phone call or use the bathroom. They might come running back saying, “Oh my God I’m so sorry, I just had to use the bathroom really fast and they don’t allow dogs in there, I was only gone a couple minutes!” or “I wasn’t getting reception in my car so I had to walk over there!” and then they’ll leave, and you’ll all go on with your lives and live happily ever after. However, if no one comes back a couple minutes later, and they are still nowhere to be found in the immediate vicinity, it’s time to take some pictures. Make sure you get good pictures of the car itself so you know which make, model, and color it is; also get clear pictures of the license plate, and the animal(s) that are currently inside of the car. Now, move onto step 3:labincar
  3. Go Into Nearby Stores the Owner May Be Inside of: If you are in the parking lot of a store, try going inside and asking the manager if they can make an announcement over the loudspeaker. “Whoever owns a (type of car) with a (type of animal) inside of it please come to the front desk,” works pretty well, and hopefully the owner of the car/animal comes to the front desk, and it can go from there. If the car is parked in a strip mall with several different stores, then you may have to go store to store and make several different announcements. If the store in question does NOT have a PA system or any kind of announcement capabilities, you can take it upon yourself to go around the store asking people if they left their dog in their car. You may look kinda crazy, but it doesn’t matter if it can save a life!dogstore
  4. Once the Owner Is Found, Offer to Watch Their Pet: Hopefully you find the owner, and when you do, let them know that you are concerned for their pet that is in the car. Try not to be aggressive or judgmental when confronting the owner, and give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not being a horrible person. Offer to trade your phone/ID/wallet/whatever with their car keys as collateral, so that you can go to their car and let the animal out. You can then pet sit for them for the duration of their shopping trip, and even go to a nearby restaurant or cafe for a cup of water to give to the animal. If the person refuses to trust you with their keys, then tell them you will wait by their car and if they aren’t out in TWO minutes, that you will call the police and/or animal control. If the owner doesn’t care about your concern and/or is aggressive towards you, tell them you are calling law enforcement and go back to their car.callforhelpcropped
  5. If You Cannot Find the Owner, Call for Help: After you’ve exhausted all possibilities in finding the owner, call the authorities immediately! At this point, a substantial amount of time has passed already, and it only takes ten minutes for heatstroke, heat exhaustion, brain damage, and death to be possible. Call 911 and/or animal control to get assistance, and give them any and all information possible. Hopefully an officer will be on the scene soon, but if none are available and there is a long wait, then it may be time to take matters into your own hands. Don’t be afraid to do whatever possible in order to rescue the animal, even if it means smashing a car window. Would you rather have an animal’s death on your conscience, or save a life at the expense of a reparable/replaceable piece of someone’s property? Hopefully the latter.copsgettingintocarcropped
  6. In the Event that the Dog Isn’t Moving: It’s time for extreme measures, because it is either about to faint, has already fainted, or dead. At this point, every second counts as far as life-saving is concerned, so find a nearby person who is willing to be your witness, and take any step necessary in order to get the car open, and the animal out into safety. If you can somehow get the door open without smashing the window, then that’s great. But if you cannot, and/or it is taking too long, grab the nearest object (rock, chunk of cement, metal tool, etc) and smash the window furthest from the animal so that it isn’t harmed by the heavy object OR broken glass. Once you have an opening, unlock any doors necessary and/or crawl into the car to retrieve the animal, which is hopefully still alive.copsmashcropped
  7. Run the Animal to the Nearest Building or Shade to Drink and Cool Off: Your job as an impromptu animal rescuer is far from over! Dash to the nearest department store, discount shop, medical office, or any location that (hopefully) has air conditioning and water. Once inside, inform everyone nearby of the situation, and ask if someone can get you some water for the animal to drink. If the animal is unresponsive and therefore cannot drink, pour a little bit of it on their mouth/head to cool them off and perhaps they will wake up. The air conditioning will help cool their body temperature off so be patient, since law enforcement and/or animal control is hopefully on the way.dogdrinkingcropped
  8. Do NOT Leave the Scene: Do NOT just hand the dog off to someone else and leave the scene! You will need to give authorities a proper report with everything that happened (especially if you smashed the car’s window or damaged it in some way), and if you leave, that will seem very sketchy and irresponsible of you. Wait for the officer(s) to come, and answer any and all questions they ask. You might also have to pay for the car owner’s window that you broke, but you may not have to depending on the severity of the animal’s heat-related illness. Be as level-headed as you can, because chances are, the person who left the animal(s) in the car is going to be defensive, mean, and aggressive! That’s also why you should have another person (or several others) to witness everything going on and to back you up until law enforcement gets there.smashingwindow

Basically to sum it up, if you see an animal left in a hot car, you should definitely NOT immediately start panicking and smashing the window – UNLESS the animal is not moving at all or being unresponsive to window tapping/knocking. It’s best to NOT assume the worst in someone, because you don’t want to jump to conclusions and overreact. Use your best sense of judgment to discern whether or not it is necessary to damage someone else’s property, and only do so if you have given a substantial effort to find the owner first. On the other hand, you don’t want to take SO long trying to locate the owner and waiting for authorities that the animal dies right in front of you. So, while this is a tricky judgment to make, hopefully you are a little bit more aware of what you should do in this particular situation should you come across it!

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Vicky Opine July 20, 2016, 5:54 am

    Great article! It’s amazing that people are still so ignorant about leaving pets (and children!) in cars. Being in Texas, I always keep my eyes peeled for living creatures left in cars. It only takes a few minutes for a car to turn into an oven and you may not have time to take all these steps. Do what you have to to save a life. Cars can be fixed.

    • VetDepot July 20, 2016, 12:03 pm

      Yes Vicky, it is absolutely RIDICULOUS! You’d think it’s common sense that if you leave a pet, child, or anything in a hot car – it’s literally like leaving them in an OVEN, which can be fatal. For some reason, it seems as if people these days are not only missing common sense, but they are also missing any kind of empathy/compassion that would definitely prevent them from leaving a living thing in a car to suffer in the heat. 🙁 Thank you for being hyper-aware of living things being left in cars, and you’re right! You may NOT have time to find the owner, make an announcement in a store, call the cops, etc. so it should definitely be something to deal with on a case-by-case basis, but I thought I’d offer some things to keep in mind so that people aren’t just going around smashing car windows everywhere when it’s not entirely necessary. 😛 You’re right though, cars can be fixed, and LIVES canNOT! <3 Thanks again for being amazing! 🙂

  • Tracy Hart July 20, 2016, 6:40 am

    Thanks for this advice. I will print it out and keep it in my handbag this summer!

    • VetDepot July 20, 2016, 12:00 pm

      Awesome, Tracy! 🙂 Glad you found it so helpful! 😀 Another thing for you to keep in mind is that if you *MUST* leave your dogs in the car for a few minutes and it’s hot out, leave a note in the windshield saying what time you left, and with your phone number so that if someone is concerned for your dogs, they can call you and NOT smash your window. 😛 Of course, dogs should NEVER be left in a hot car, but if you HAVE TO (for whatever reason) do it for a few minutes or so, then leave a note! <3

  • Sylvia July 20, 2016, 8:13 am

    Thank you for publishing this. It is a good, non-nonsense article about how to asses the situation, steps to take, and how to protect yourself legally if you break in to a hot car. I forwarded it to Facebook.

    • VetDepot July 20, 2016, 11:59 am

      Thank you, Sylvia! 🙂 I figured that if I can shed some light on this controversial/confusing topic then it’d help a lot of people! 🙂 I’ve seen a lot of videos and articles floating around that are kind of vague and make it seem as if you should just smash someone’s window IMMEDIATELY upon seeing a pet in a car. 😛 I thought I’d detail the steps you should take *BEFORE* you do such a thing. 😉 Don’t get me wrong, if I have to, I will smash a window GLADLY – but only if it’s a dire situation and/or I exhausted all other options first. 😛

  • Ray July 20, 2016, 12:32 pm

    Great article and excellent advise. As for me, I’ll do what ever it takes to save the pet’s life or stop the suffering and worry about the consequences later.

  • Zhinka July 20, 2016, 3:19 pm

    if the vehicle is running with the air conditioning on…….walk away and leave the animal in peace!

    • VetDepot July 21, 2016, 9:22 am

      No, I didn’t forget it. 😛 Notice the title of the entry is “What To Do If You See a Pet in a HOT CAR” not a “Car Running With AC On.” LOL Obviously if the car is running and has the air conditioning on then you should NOT worry. BUT, sometimes even if the AC is on, if the animal is in direct sunlight, it can still be a victim of heatstroke.

  • Betty Hall July 20, 2016, 5:45 pm

    I’ve called the Lakewood Cali police a couple of times last year,because dogs were locked in vehicle,in very hot weather with windows up,and I was told there is no Law against that, & I know there is

    • VetDepot July 21, 2016, 9:20 am

      Wow, really?! That is absurd, I thought that ALL of California made it illegal to leave an animal in a hot car! I’m in SD County myself, and I know for a fact that it’s illegal here…maybe each county or city has their own rules? HMMMMMM…time to do some digging!

  • Keith Eshelman July 27, 2016, 3:58 am

    I have found that a large rock helps the situation greatly.
    Then waiting for the owner to come back so I can express my concern over his stupidity is good too.

  • Colin Wright July 27, 2016, 8:42 am

    1. Nonhuman animals feel pain, pleasure, fear and other sensations. If they feel these sensations, then they have an interest in not being used merely as a resource for human pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

    2. There is no necessity for human animals to intentionally exploit nonhuman animals and cause them to suffer or die except our own enjoyment of the taste of their flesh/secretions and the convenience that animal exploitation affords us. Humans have no dietary need for flesh, dairy, eggs or honey:


    We have no need to use animals for clothing; we have no need to use them for entertainment; not only is it morally unjustifiable to use nonhumans in bio-medical research, but more humans suffer and/or die when we do so than if we didn’t use nonhumans at all:



    3. When something is unnecessary except for our trivial pleasure or convenience and that thing causes some being (for example, a nonhuman or human animal) to experience pain, fear or other kinds of suffering, then the harm being done to that being’s interest in their continued survival, freedoms, or not suffering is more important than our interest in our own mere pleasure, amusement or convenience.

    4. We claim to believe in “fairness/ethical/moral consistency” as a “moral good”, which means we believe in treating similar cases similarly when it comes to ethics/morality. In other words, if we believe it’s wrong to beat a human child for no good reason because they will suffer from a beating, then we should also believe that it’s wrong to beat a dog, cow, or chicken for no good reason because the nonhuman will also suffer.

    So, if we value moral consistency at all, which means we treat similar cases similarly, the minimum and only criteria needed to include nonhuman animals in our moral sphere (meaning we believe we should not harm them at all for no good reason) is that they feel pain, fear, and other sensations, since that is the minimum criteria we use to include humans in our moral sphere.

    5. Any characteristic that humans claim to have that we claim makes us morally superior to nonhuman animals cannot be factually proven to be a humans-only trait. Unless we can prove that we are morally superior to nonhuman animals, any argument that we claim justifies intentionally harming and exploiting nonhumans can also be used to justify humans intentionally exploiting other humans:


    This means that if we personally are in favor of violating nonhumans’ right to be safe from being enslaved, raped, tortured or killed by humans then we have no claim that we ourselves should be safe from having those same things done to us by other humans. Any argument we try to use to justify harm to nonhumans can also be used successfully by other humans to justify harming us in those same ways.

    6. If we accept premises 1 through 4, our ethical/moral obligation is to either a) cease any actions that intentionally cause unnecessary suffering and death to other beings such as nonhuman and human animals, in which case we can claim that our interests in avoiding the same harms should not be dismissed without due consideration, and we can point to the fact that this is because we are morally consistent, or b) admit that we are not morally consistent and that any human who wishes to dismiss our interests in avoiding the same harms without due consideration is also morally justified in doing so.

    Conclusion: If we don’t stop intentionally exploiting nonhumans to the best of our ability, all the things we consider atrocities and major problems in the world will never end. We also will not be able to consider ourselves truly morally consistent people. To stop intentionally exploiting nonhumans completely means Abolitionist Veganism.

    To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism, go here:

    • VetDepot July 27, 2016, 12:14 pm

      I agree with all of your points 1000000000% which is why I am a vegetarian who is about 70% vegan – but this is all kind of off-topic to this post. LOL Thanks for the information though I will definitely read it and enjoy it! <3

  • John from Staten Island August 3, 2016, 9:51 pm

    Stop the bullshit. First call 911. Then if there is no response after 5 minutes, break the window.

    • VetDepot August 4, 2016, 1:48 pm

      That should definitely be the course of action for a pet that is already suffering and not moving inside of a hot vehicle. If the animal is still moving around, barking, etc. then try to find the owner first since the situation isn’t so dire. If you want, you can call the police and THEN try and find the owner, but if you find them then the police will show up for no reason…unless the person can be given a ticket for it (not all states have laws protecting animals in such a circumstance though). I definitely feel you, I would NOT be wasting time if I were to encounter an animal trapped in a hot car. If it was already exhibiting heatstroke symptoms, I would call the police immediately and then wait a little bit and smash the window if they didn’t come quickly enough. If an animal is clearly moving around though and not in immediate danger, I’d take a minute or two to find the owner nearby and THEN call the police. I admire your determination though to save animal lives, and I encourage you to do whatever you feel is necessary!

  • Donna August 4, 2016, 5:59 am

    Calling the police should be moved up to number one on the list due to the fact that response time may be lengthy. I live in an area surrounded by water, so I carry a window breaker punch tool in my vehicle, which would come in handy for rescuing an animal from a hot car in the event that the vehicle doors were locked.

    • VetDepot August 4, 2016, 1:46 pm

      Donna, you’re right – the response time can be lengthy, and every minute counts not only for the animal’s survival but possible brain damage as well. That’s why I think I specified if the animal isn’t moving and appears to already be suffering heat stroke symptoms, call the police ASAP. In cases when it isn’t as dire of a situation, take a minute or two at MOST to try and find the owner, and if they are not found – then call the police. The main purpose of this post was to provide options to people rather than just instantly smashing the person’s window, because that is not always necessary. Kudos to you though for having a window breaker on hand! Personally, I would NOT hesitate to break a window if it came down to that. I just would have to deal with it on a case by case basis in order to see how much time I need to spend on alternatives first. 🙂

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