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It’s illegal to leave dogs in a hot car in Washington; leaving the window cracked isn’t enough

Vehicles can quickly heat to dangerous temperatures

By Karlee Van De Venter, Tri-City Herald
Published: June 14, 2024, 5:40am

KENNEWICK— Without ventilation, the temperature inside your car will rise high and fast. Leaving pets in a hot car can cause heat stroke or death — and no, cracking a window open isn’t enough.

In fact, you can be held liable for leaving an animal inside a hot car under Washington law, which makes it a civil infraction to leave any animal alone in a car, or other enclosed space, if they could be killed by excessive heat, excessive cold, lack of ventilation or lack of water. This comes with a maximum fine of $125.

However, this does not mean a concerned passerby can remove the animal from the space. Washington law only allows an animal control or law enforcement officer to take action if there is reason to believe the animal is “suffering or likely to suffer harm.” These officers can remove the animal, as long as someone like the car owner is not around to otherwise access the animal.

Officers are allowed to immediately remove the animal and are not held liable for any damage caused by their actions in the process.

It is also possible to get slapped with an animal cruelty charge, depending on the severity of the situation, and other circumstances.

Report a trapped animal

If you see a dog or other animal trapped in a car without the proper resources, check if an owner or someone related is nearby. If there is definitely no other option, call the authorities.

Local law enforcement will have a non-emergency dispatch number. (In Clark County, the number is 311.) Call to report the trapped animal and wait for an officer to arrive.

You can also call nearby animal control services. There may be several servicing your area.

If you don’t want to call authorities, try pinpointing where the dog’s owner might be. You might be able to request staff make an announcement, alerting the owner of any symptoms the animal is showing.

How hot can a car get?

According to a 2005 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, outside temperatures of around 70 degrees can heat the inside of a car to over 115 degrees within minutes.

Dogs experience heat exhaustion when their body temperature hits 103 degrees, according to pet food company Hill’s Pet Nutrition. It’s typically safe to leave your dog in the car for no more than five minutes when the outside temperature is above freezing and below 70 degrees, pet health author Jean-Marie Bauhaus wrote on Hill’s blog.

If you have a passenger in the car with you, have them stay behind and keep the air conditioning running.

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Heat stroke symptoms

Dogs don’t sweat across their entire body like humans because of their fur.

Instead, they sweat mainly through their merocrine glands located in their paw pads, according to the American Kennel Club.

Dogs will also pant and rely on the expansion of their blood vessels to regulate their body temperature but none of it is as effective in cooling dogs down as sweating is for humans.

“Heat stroke is a serious concern for all dogs,” the American Kennel Club states on its website, especially those with short noses and flat faces.

Obese dogs and animals with dark coats are also at a higher risk of stroke.

The signs of heat stroke include:

  • Dehydration
  • Body temperature over 105.8 degrees and the dog feels warm to the touch
  • Bright red gums
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Lack of coordination

If you’re outside of a locked car and cannot physically asses the dog, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Heavy, frantic panting

Car safety mode

Some cars — including many electric vehicles — have modes that allow you to keep your car cool while you’re not in it. However, these modes are not recommended for long periods of time.

For example, Tesla owners can control the inside of their car’s temperatures with an app.

According to the electric vehicle company, the “dog” function maintains a comfortable cabin temperature for pets while left alone inside the car.

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