It’s one thing to understand the gravity of a life-changing issue, but another to stay vigilant about it. The dangers of leaving a living being in a hot car – be it an animal or a person – cannot be overstated, yet so many of us continue to think “this could never happen to me.”
For too many pet owners, this tragedy can and does happen. Two weeks ago in Florida, a two-year-old Chihuahua perished in a hot car while the dog’s owner was at work. A few days before that, a three-year-old poodle mix died in Connecticut after its owner – a retired professor – accidentally left her trapped in a car for two-and-a-half hours. Since June, other dogs have died in hot cars in Vancouver, Chicago, California, and Calgary.
Many people don’t realize how quickly the interior of a car can heat up, even when a window is cracked or the car is parked in the shade. On a 70-degree day, a car’s interior temperature can climb to 90 degrees. On an 85-degree day, it takes only ten minutes for a car’s interior to top 100 degrees; in 30 minutes, the temperature can jump to 120 degrees.
Dogs don’t perspire like humans, so being trapped in extreme heat can quickly cause difficult breathing, increased heart and respiratory rates, seizures, and severe harm to vital organs that may result in permanent injury or death. As time passes and temperatures rise, a trapped animal’s chances for survival decline exponentially.
Twenty-six states have laws that either prohibit confining animals in cars or provide legal protection for those who act to rescue a distressed animal from a vehicle. These laws vary from state to state, but wherever you are, if you see a pet trapped in a car on a hot day, try to locate the owner or call 911. Notify the management of nearby stores so they can make urgent announcements, and stay by the car until help arrives.
You can also help prevent these tragedies from occurring in the first place. When you’re traveling with animals in your care, leave yourself clear reminders of them – like a leash in the passenger seat – or put must-have belongings near your pet. If your activity doesn’t involve your pet, think twice before bringing the animal with you at all. He or she will be safer and cooler at home.
These risks and recommendations may seem obvious to you, but don’t treat them that way. If you want to ensure “it never happens to you,” be extra mindful of your pets, encourage friends and family to be cautious, and be aware of at-risk animals in your community. You just might be saving a life.
Matt Bershadker is President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).