Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dogs in hot cars in Oregon: 6 ways to help without breaking the law

Boston terrier in a hot car with the windows rolled down
We're in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record in Oregon. Despite the known risks that come with leaving dogs in hot cars, people still can and do drive around with their pooches. And they still leave those canine kids behind when they run errands.

Let's be clear: The inside of a car isn't safe for a dog when the outside temperature is higher than about 70 degrees. Even with the windows cracked. Even when you're parked in the shade. If you leave your dog in a car, you're subjecting that dog to a form of torture that can result in death.

Even so, Oregon law won't protect you if you choose to take action on your own to save a dog in a hot car. Break the window, pop open the door or otherwise move to save a dog's life, and you could be subject to B&E charges. (Sad, right?) The police can intervene, due to a new law, but private citizens need to take care before leaping in to assist.

Here's what you can do, within legal boundaries, to help a dog in a hot car.

Step 1: Write down data. 

The next few minutes will be filled with information sharing. So you'll want to get your notes in order right now. Jot down:
  • The time
  • Your specific location (cross street, if possible)
  • The make and model of the car
  • The license plate of the car
  • The breed and/or size of the dog

Step 2: Assess the overall condition of the dog, to the best of your ability. 

This step will help you determine how serious the situation is, and whom to call next. Take a peek at the dog in the car, and look for:
  • Panting
  • Red gums
  • Drooling
  • Attitude
You might spot a dog that looks a little like Sinead does here. This is a pooch that should get out of the car now, before a problem appears. But she isn't in a life-threatening state. She looks pretty calm and relaxed.

Boston terrier in the driver's seat of a car
But if she was panting, or I couldn't get her attention at all, I'd know we were looking at life-threatening issues.

3. Make the call. 

Dogs like Sinead that are just in hot cars but don't seem on the verge of death can be reported to the police non-emergency line. That's a number you should have programmed into your phone at all times for the city in which you live.

Now, most expert sources like the Humane Society of the United States recommend calling the non-emergency line for all dog-in-hot-car cases. The Oregon Humane Society says the same thing. That's prudent advice. But, there are some situations in which the dog might look as though the next few minutes mean life or death. 

Dogs that seem distressed/comatose/non-responsive merit a call to 9-1-1. They need emergency care, and they need it now. Call the number and relay everything you've written down about where you are, what you've seen and what should happen next. Don't skip a single detail about how the dog looks or what is happening. Be as specific and clear as you can.

4. Notify local businesses. 

This is a touchy tip, and I'll be frank: I've done this before, and it didn't work. But you might have better luck with it, so I'll include it here.

If the car is parked in a parking lot devoted to one business, go into the business with your notes and ask the first person you see to make an announcement over the PA system. That alert could get the owner out quick, and help the dog to get released faster.

But here's the rub.

Many businesses don't want to distress their patrons with messages that seem excessively blame-worthy. So many just won't comply, or the people you talk to will tie up your time with pleas to meet with the manager. That's time you could be spending with the dog.

That's why I recommend a quick mention and release. It might help, but don't spend a lot of time fussing around here.

5. Help where you can.

If the dog will respond to you, provide a sip of cool water through the window. Talk quietly to the pup. And stay right there until help arrives. If the minutes tick by (and you'll know, because you documented the start time of this whole event), and the dog seems to be in a deeper level of distress, call the non-emergency number again and report the change. Don't leave until the dog is out of the hot car.

6. Model good behavior. 

The best place for a dog on a hot day is at home, with plenty of toys to play with. Like this.
Dog in a dog bed on a hot day
Demonstrate that fact by never, ever leaving your own dogs in hot cars. And speak up if your friends and family members ignore the advice and take their pooches everywhere. It's not smart, and you can help stop it!


  1. Great information! I'm still so surprised when I hear stories of people leaving their dogs in their hot cars. Haven't they learned by now how dangerous that is?!? Good to know there are things we can do to help if find a situation like this. Thanks for educations and spreading the word.

    1. I'm with you. Every summer, I see all sorts of warnings about dogs in hot cars. And then every summer, I end up seeing dogs in cars. Drives me bonkers!