It’s Simple – Dogs in Hot Cars Can Die
Never leave your dog in your car when it’s hot outside. And by hot I mean if the approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees Celsius).
It isn’t a hard concept to grasp is it?
After reading multiple articles from around the country every year about dogs the died from heat stroke in hot cars, I wondered how many reports about dogs in hot cars the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) got last summer, the hottest ever in the Northwest.
Too Many Incidents
According to the information SAS sent to me, 290 of these reports were filed with SAS in May, June, July, and August of 2015. Here is the breakdown of when the reports were filed:
May – 49
June – 99
July – 78
August – 64
TOTAL – 290
AVERAGE – 2.4 reports per day
Other highlights from the data:
- Officers issued warnings in 61% of the incidences and citations in 5% of the incidences
- Officers impounded dogs 6 times
What initially struck me was how many incidents were reported to SAS. We’ve heard over and over how quickly a dog can succumb to heat stroke – the temperature inside a car can go from 70 degrees to over 100 degrees in 10 or 15 minutes – yet in dog friendly Seattle, Animal Control Officers responded to reports of dogs in hot cars almost 2.5 times a day last summer.
That seems like a lot, right?
The other thing I noticed was that Animal Control issued many more warnings to people who left their dogs in hot cars vs. the number of times they issued citations or impounded a dog.
To get clarification about the numbers I spoke with Ann Graves, Manager of Field Services at SAS.
Officer Graves said that last summer the combination of hotter than usual temperatures and increased awareness by the public most likely led to the high number reports about dogs in hot cars.
She noted that officers issued so few citations because, until last July, they didn’t have the authority to write them.
Impact of New Law
That’s when a new law took effect that allowed officers to break into hot cars to save dogs in distress and write citations.
That’s also one of the key reasons officers issued so many warnings in the majority of cases they investigated. The other is that officers generally issue warnings unless the dog is in distress.
Officer Graves explained that to determine whether or not a dog is in distress, officers take several factors into account like:
- Dog’s Age
- Dog’s Health (is it sitting calmly on the seat or on the floorboards panting heavily)
- Breed (dog’s with shorter noses like bulldogs and pugs have more difficult breathing and can’t cool themselves as well as other dogs).
In many of the cases, the dog’s owner comes back to the car while the officer is still there. If the dog appears healthy and breathing normally, the officer will issue a warning. She won’t issue instead of a citation or confiscate the dog.
And many times the dog owner has already driven away before the officer arrives. If the person who reported the dog to SAS provided the vehicle’s license plate number, an officer will mail a warning to the dog owner.
Why Officers Don’t Always Issue Citations
I know some people aren’t going to like this policy. They’ll say that, at the very least, anyone who leaves a dog in a car on a hot day should get a citation.
But the law states that leaving a dog is only an infraction if the animal could be “harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.”
I asked Officer Graves why SAS got so many calls about dogs in hot cars last summer. I thought the reason could be some people overreacted and the dog wasn’t in distress.
She made it clear that was not the case and emphasized that anyone who thinks a dog in a car on a hot day is in danger should report is to SAS.
She added that before you report the dog be sure you provide as much information as possible like:
- Is the car in full shade, partial shade, or full sun?
- How far are the vehicle’s windows down?
- Where is the dog in the car?
- Does the dog appear in distress?
- What is the dog’s breed?
Leave Your Dog at Home When It’s Hot!
She also gave this advice to dog owners – “If there is any doubt you will be able to take your dog with you when you go somewhere, the safest thing you can do is leave it at home.”
As we head into the hottest months of the summer, please heed Officer Graves’ advice. If you must take your dog with you, don’t leave it in your vehicle!
Full Disclosure: I have been a volunteer dog walker with the Seattle Animal Shelter for about 3 years. With the exception of the statements from Officer Graves, everything in my post is solely my opinion and based on the reports I requested from the Shelter.
Thank you to UW graduate Serena Juma for compiling the data from the reports. Without her help I wouldn’t have been able to finish this post until approximately 2020.