What to do if you see a Dog Trapped in a Hot Car

What to do if you see a Dog Trapped in a Hot Car

Every summer the RSPCA receives around 6,000 calls to report distressed dogs in hot cars but with no powers of entry the RSPCA cannot break into that car to save the animal - so what should you do if you see a dog in a hot car?

The dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car

For dogs the main way they cool down is to pant. In a hot car there is not enough fresh, cool air to make panting an effective way to cool down. This means the body temperature rises and rises to dangerous levels very quickly.

Studies have shown that opening the windows or leaving a car in the shade will not prevent the temperature rising inside. Cars act like greenhouses, the heat enters the car and stays there, it has no way of getting back out again.

In the image below, it can be seen when the temperature outside the car is just 21°C the temperature inside the car can reach 40°C in only 30 minutes.

temperatures in a car

It takes only a 2°C rise in body temperature for a dog to suffer heatstroke, it can take only 15 minutes for a dog left in a hot car to die.

What should I do if a see a dog in distress in a hot car?

What to do depends upon the level of distress you believe the dog is in;

Distressed, but not life threatening

  • You can call 101 and report your concerns.
  • If you are near a venue such as a supermarket or shopping centre you could take the registration number of the vehicle and ask for an announcement to be made to get the owner back to their car.

If you believe the situation is life threatening

It may be obvious that the dog is in considerable distress and displaying the signs of heatstroke. Heatstroke would present as; heavy panting, excessive dribbling, vomiting, weakness, drowsiness and collapse.

  • In this situation you can call 999 and report the emergency
  • It is never advisable to break into the car yourself to free the dog as you could be charged with criminal damage.

You can always call the RSPCA cruelty line for advice, which is open 24 hours a day on 0300 123 4999.

What is the law on breaking into a vehicle to free a distressed dog?

The law relating to this offence is found in Section 5 (2)(a) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. It states that you will have a lawful excuse for causing the damage providing the owner of the property would have consented had they known the circumstances and would have consented to it.

The full act reads;

You will have a lawful excuse for criminal damage...

"if at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence he believed that the person or persons whom he believed to be entitled to consent to the destruction or damage to the property in question had so consented, or would have so consented to it if he or they had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances."

Criminal Damage Act 1971

Breaking into another person's car should always be a last resort. If you do feel this course of action is unavoidable you should be well prepared to defend your actions. You should try to take pictures or videos that clearly show the circumstances, you should let the police know that this is what you intend to do, and you should take the names and numbers of any witnesses.

What happens to people who leave their dogs in hot cars?

If a dog suffers or sadly dies due to being left in a hot car the owners can be punished using animal welfare laws. The result could be;

  • A prison sentence
  • A fine
  • A ban from owning any other animals in the future


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