So 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!