Everybody who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that you shouldn’t leave your pet — or a dependent human — in a locked car in the heat. And most people know it’s a bad idea to walk your dog unprotected on hot surfaces. But how hot is too hot? What should you do if you see an animal in a dangerous position? And what are the legal penalties…for you and for the animal’s owner?
Recently, in New York, Shadow, a Boxer mix, was left in a car for nearly an hour. During his owner’s absence, the temperature inside the car rose to over 110 degrees Fahrenheit — well above a dog’s normal body temperature. Shadow didn’t make it. By the time Ontario County police arrived, he was already gone.
Heatstroke is a terrible way to go, and every year, too many dogs die from it, locked in a car while their owners are away.
Shadow’s owner, Roger Chilson, was arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty.
Exposing your pet to excessive heat, whether inside a locked car, or walking unprotected on hot surfaces can cause them permanent damage, or even death. And it can cost you money and even your freedom.
If the Outside Air Temperature is…
Sometimes it’s hard to picture just how hot things can get if you’re not the one suffering. If you’re in the air-conditioned store, it’s easy to forget about your best friend stuck in the car. And if you’re walking along in comfortable shoes, you might not even think about the pavement temperature. Here are some facts for you to keep in mind.
Temperatures inside the car
Is it ever OK to leave your pet inside the car? Even for a few minutes? Well, in 28 American states, it is not. In some places, you might get off with a warning, while in others, a judge could sentence you to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. And in most of these states, the law will not punish someone for rescuing an animal locked in a car.
How hot is too hot? Well, if the outside temperature is a mere 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside the car can reach 89 degrees in a mere ten minutes — that’s less time than a quick nip into the grocery store. After 30 minutes, that car temperature can go as high as 104 degrees.
On the upper end of the scale, if the outside air temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit, as it can often be during the summer in many places, the inside car temperature can soar to 129 degrees after half an hour. But what if the outside temperature is over one hundred degrees, as it frequently is in the western part of the United States? You don’t even want to think about that.
And this is not even taking into consideration the fact that your buddy is wearing a fur coat.
How hot is too hot to walk on? It’s not enough to ask whether you would walk on a surface barefoot. The question doesn’t even occur to most of us. But the answers might surprise you. One Florida study gave us some real data. And it will give you paws…er, pause.
How hot are different surfaces relative to the air temperature? Well, these researchers found that when the air temperature is 76 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of grass-covered ground is a manageable 70 degrees in the shade, and 74 degrees in the sun. The cement surface they measured was 78 degrees, and blacktop was 80. So far, so good. But the numbers go up quickly from there.
When the air temperature measured 92 degrees Fahrenheit — and this is a cool day in a lot of parts of the American West — the temperature of grass-covered ground ranged from 85 to 98 degrees, and blacktop was a scorching 121 degrees. 120 degrees, by the way, is the point at which direct skin contact with the surface causes pain. And it gets worse.
An air temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit — that’s just 3 degrees more — will give you grass temperatures of between 91 and 105 degrees, depending on whether you’re in the shade or sun. Blacktop temperatures will hit 140 degrees, and this can cause permanent damage and scarring after a mere one minute of contact.
And if you don’t want to take the researchers’ word for it, you can use the same infrared thermometer they used, and measure for yourself.
What to Do if You See a Dog Locked Inside a Car
First, you should absolutely know the law in your jurisdiction. According to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center, 28 states have immunity provisions for people who rescue animals from cars. However, the laws vary from state to state. In Arizona, for example, where summer temperatures commonly exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit, individuals can use “reasonable force” to rescue an animal locked in a car. They must first notify the authorities, and they cannot use “excessive force” in the course of their rescue. This seems to be the most common law. In Illinois, on the other hand, only an animal control officer or law enforcement officer has the legal right to make the rescue.
But in any case, if you’re going to act, act fast. Because temperatures rise quickly after ten minutes. And after half an hour, an animal can find themselves in serious trouble. And, if it’s hot enough, a trapped dog can die from heatstroke in a mere six minutes.
Animal First Aid
If you do find yourself in the situation of having rescued an animal from a hot car, it’s important to evaluate that animal for heatstroke. What’s the difference?
A dog experiencing heat exhaustion may be panting, drooling, vomiting, confused, or any combination of these. Heatstroke symptoms include heavy panting, diarrhea, siezures, and coma. Often dogs who get to this stage don’t make it.
If the dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, move it to the shade and offer it small amounts of water until it returns to normal. On the other hand if the dog is experiencing heatstroke, you must take it to an emergency vet immediately. You can find more detailed information here.
As too many stories tell us every year, heat kills. But the good news is, it’s preventable. Take a little extra time to keep your best friend safe. And if it’s hot outside, it may be best to leave your dog at home, with the A/C on, and a nice bowl of water.