Hundreds of dogs each year perish from searing heat in unattended cars, left there by individuals who don’t understand what a risk to the animal’s life it is. With the car windows rolled up, even on a comfortable day, temperatures can spike in a flash and a life-threatening situation can develop. On an 80-degree day, it takes just 10 minutes for the car to heat up to 99 degrees. It doesn’t help much to roll down the windows, and animals don’t have sweat glands to release some of that heat.
Compelled to act by substantial numbers of animal fatalities, more than 20 states and many municipalities have made it a crime to leave an animal in a hot car as part of their anti-cruelty laws. Now, a growing number of states are fortifying their laws by allowing good Samaritans to enter vehicles to remove animals under certain circumstances.
In 2015, Tennessee made history by passing the first such law of its kind in the nation, and since then the states of Florida and Wisconsin have come on board. A similar bill has just landed on the Ohio governor’s desk, Michigan and Massachusetts are considering bills allowing the rescue of dogs from hot cars, and there is a bill in California that is moving ahead with strong bipartisan support. Virginia just passed a new law in 2016 giving civil immunity to first responders.
Many states have good Samaritan bills addressing the dangerous problem of children left in hot cars, and we’re now catching up to make sure that pets don’t face that same threat. Intervention is carefully defined and kept as a last resort, only to be used when all other options have been exhausted and the animal is in visible distress. The bills also spell out what is to be done after an animal has been removed to ensure that emergency care is provided and that pets are returned to their owners appropriately.
Most people are aware of the problem, but often don’t realize that it only takes a few minutes for temperatures to mount and a dangerous situation to develop. Putting animals at risk of an agonizing and unnecessary death in a hot car is a problem we can all agree to prevent.