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What Should We Do If An Animal is Locked in a Hot Car?

Summer is just around the corner, and with summer heat comes extra responsibility for animal lovers like us. Sadly, hundreds of animals die in hot cars every year while waiting for their owners to return from 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 only twenty minutes (see the graphic below). Experts say that even lowering the car windows does very little to combat the ever-increasing temperature in a vehicle. 

So, what should we do?

If you see a companion 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:

1. Call your local law enforcement or animal control office. Make sure you stay by the vehicleso 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.

2. Ask someone to make an announcement at businesses surrounding the parked vehicle to locate the vehicle owner.

3. 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…

1. Call law enforcement or animal control to update them on the situation before you do anything.

2.Know your state’s laws on rescuing animals from locked vehicles. Many states only allow emergency services personnel to forcibly enter a vehicle to save an animal in distress. However, the following states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect citizens from being sued by the vehicle owner for any damages incurred during the animal’s rescue:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. 

Click here for a full list of each state’s hot car laws.

It can be helpful to know your local laws before you find yourself in this situation. Contact your local sheriff’s office or animal control and know the laws and protections for animals locked in vehicles. Being prepared could save an animal’s life!

Most importantly, always follow the law enforcement officer’s instructions so that you and the animal stay safe!

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5 responses to “What Should We Do If An Animal is Locked in a Hot Car?”

  1. S Healy says:

    If the animal is in distress, I would break the window and not think twice about it. Probably take the animal and take care of it for the rest of its life the right way.

  2. Wendy Sefcik says:

    Who could stand by and watch an innocent animal suffer a slow & agonizing death and do nothing? Every state needs a good Samaritan law! I for one will take my chances – I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.

  3. millie wells says:

    I am not usually a scofflaw but nothing would stop me from smashing a window to rescue an animal in distress.


  5. Judy says:

    I agree w/all of the above. I would find a way to smash open & rescue animal; however finding an object to break a window is never around & the fuse if a 100lb person could not get the job done
    I would call 911 first, & try not to lose control of my nerves but they would get the better of me. EVERY STATE EVERY CITY IN OUR WORKD NEEDS TO LEGALIZE RESCUES- ANY LIVING ANIMAL. Sometimes children & elders need to be rescued too.

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