No, cracking the windows doesn’t make parked cars safe for dogs

by Michelle Reynolds

I was standing near a store entrance when I heard it: yelping and barking coming from the parking lot. Dumping my items, I ran outside and found a small black dog trapped inside an SUV. After jotting down the make, model, color and license plate number, I dashed back in and had started explaining the situation to the cashier when a man standing at the register interrupted me: “He’s my dog. He’s fine. It’s only been a few minutes, and the windows are cracked.”

The misconception that it’s OK to leave a dog alone in a car if the windows are slightly open has often proved deadly. As temperatures rise, we must watch for dogs left in parked cars, because they can’t escape when those cars heat up like ovens.

On a 70-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to 99 degrees in 20 minutes. On a 90-degree day, it can hit 109 degrees in 10 minutes. That’s enough time for animals to sustain brain damage or die of heatstroke. Research shows that parking in the shade with the windows cracked makes almost no difference.

Anyone who sees a dog left in a car should have the owner paged at the nearest businesses and call authorities if they don’t return. Watch for signs of heatstroke, which can include heavy panting, heavy salivation, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, urinating blood, collapse, seizures and loss of consciousness. If authorities are slow to respond and the dog appears to be in danger, find a witness, remove the animal from the vehicle and wait for officials. Give the dog water and, if possible, get them into an air-conditioned space. Many states have laws that prohibit leaving animals in hot cars and “good Samaritan” laws that protect rescuers. Those states that don’t still look favorably upon individuals who saved a life.

When taking your dog on warm-weather adventures, don’t leave them alone in your vehicle. Dogs have turned off the air conditioning, locked their guardians out and knocked the gear shift out of park. No errand is worth the risk.

Before setting off for the beach or another outdoor destination, consider how hot the sand or pavement is likely to be. On a 75-degree day, sand can become a piping-hot 100 degrees; on a 90-degree day, it can heat up to 120. When the mercury hits 86 degrees, asphalt can reach a sizzling 135. Dogs’ paws can be burned, blistered and permanently damaged. These surfaces also reflect heat onto animals’ bodies, and since canines can’t sweat to cool themselves, they can quickly fall victim to heatstroke.

In hot weather, dogs are safest indoors. The best times to go for a walk are early in the morning and late in the evening. Walk on the grass, carry water and never make dogs wear muzzles that hinder their ability to pant and expel heat.

Please also be vigilant for chained or penned dogs, who are often neglected and are at a greater risk of suffering from heat-related conditions. Many municipalities have banned or limited chaining and penning, and all dogs must at least have shelter, shade, adequate food, clean water and appropriate veterinary care. If a dog isn’t being provided with basic necessities, try speaking to the owner. You may receive permission to improve the animal’s situation. If not, a quick call to law enforcement may be all that’s necessary. If you see a dog showing signs of heatstroke, call authorities. Ensure that the animal is at least moved into the shade but preferably into an air-conditioned space, given water and taken to a veterinarian.

As for the little dog who was in the hot SUV, he’s OK. When the man saw that I was prepared to call 911, he went right back to his vehicle. I went with him, explaining that even with the windows partially open, it only takes a minute for dogs to overheat. He didn’t exactly thank me, but I hope next time he’ll think twice about leaving his companion to cook.

Michelle Reynolds is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;