How to Help an Animal Locked in a Hot Car

Summer is here and with it, some hot temperatures. Unfortunately, hundreds of animals die in hot cars every year while waiting for their owners to “run into” the supermarket, the post office, or the shopping mall. While running a short errand may seem harmless to us, a ten- or twenty-minute wait in a vehicle on a warm day can easily turn into a dire emergency for an animal.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the temperature in a vehicle can reach almost thirty degrees higher than the temperature outside after just twenty minutes. Experts say that even lowering the car windows does very little to combat the increasing temperature in a vehicle. In that time, a dog’s circulatory system, kidneys, GI tract, and central nervous system can be affected. Unlike humans, dogs are unable to sweat. They rely mainly on their respiratory tract to dissipate heat. As the ambient temperature increases and approaches core body temperature, panting becomes much more important for cooling. However, when the ambient humidity is also increased, panting becomes much less efficient, making it more difficult for dogs to regulate their body temperature.

If you see an animal left in an unattended vehicle on a warm day, that animal may only have minutes before difficulty breathing and/or heat stroke symptoms set in. Here is what you should do:

  • Call your local law enforcement or animal control office. Make sure you stay by the vehicle so you can give dispatch the make, model, color, and license plate number. It is also important that you stay by the vehicle so you can monitor the animal’s condition and to see if and when the owner returns to the vehicle.
  • Ask someone to make an announcement at businesses surrounding the parked vehicle to locate the vehicle owner.
  • Stay by the vehicle until law enforcement arrives. If the owner comes back and leaves before law enforcement gets there, call them back and let them know which direction the vehicle went, and be sure to double-check the license plate number so that animal control can contact the owner later.

If the animal’s condition worsens before help arrives, call law enforcement or animal control to update them on the situation before you do anything.  In Georgia, only emergency services personnel can forcibly enter a vehicle—GA does not yet have a “Good Samaritan” law protecting citizens from being sued for damages.  The Greensboro Sheriff’s Office recommends you do not damage a person’s car but instead wait for assistance.

Always follow the law enforcement officer's instructions so that you and the animal stay safe!

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