an anxious looking dog peering outside a closed car window
Photo by Stephan Stockinger/iStockphoto

A warm day with a nice breeze can still turn a parked car into a dangerous situation and we know that leaving pets locked in cars is never 100% safe. Every year we're reminded how high temperatures in cars can cause irreparable organ damage and even death. And one thing that unites us as animal sheltering and rescue professionals is the vow to protect animals from unnecessary cruelty and death. Learn how you can help a pet left in a hot car and prevent further tragedy through legislation.

How to help a pet left in a hot car

  • Be prepared. These tips can help you stay calm if you ever come across a distressed animal:
    • Learn your town and state laws about leaving pets in hot cars. An increasing amount of states prohibit leaving pets in hot cars, and some grant immunity to good Samaritans who must rescue pets in visible distress. You may want to keep a copy of the relevant law or ordinance in your glovebox in case you receive questions or are challenged.
    • Gather essential telephone numbers to have on hand. You'll want to have your local animal control agency's number and the police department's non-emergency number so you can quickly report the situation. Keep these numbers in your phone.
  • If you see a distressed pet in a locked car, follow these guidelines:
    • Take down the car's make, model and license plate number.
    • If there are businesses nearby, notify their managers or security guards and ask them to make an announcement o find the car's owner. Many people are unaware of the danger of leaving pets in hot cars and will quickly return to their vehicle once they are alerted to the situation. 
    • If the owner can't be found, call the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive.
    • In several states, good Samaritans can legally remove animals from cars under certain circumstances. Be sure to know the laws in your area and follow any steps required.
  • Remember, it doesn't have to that warm outside for a car to become dangerously hot inside. Here are some facts:
    • When it's 72 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can heat up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour.
    • When it's 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can heat up to 99 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 minutes.
    • Rolling down the windows has been shown to have little effect on the temperature inside a car. 

Download this Shareworthy designed to inform local communities of the dangers of leaving a pet in a hot car

Prevent tragedies through legislation

Many people, including animal sheltering professionals, have come across animals in need of rescue from parked cars on hot days, but aren't sure what to do and fear being sued or arrested if they take unauthorized steps to free an animal. Tragically, many companion animals succumb to heatstroke in hot, unattended vehicles each year because their owners simply didn't know any better.

There is now a growing list of states that allow good Samaritans to enter vehicles to remove imperiled animals under certain circumstances. In 2015, Tennessee passed the first law of its kind, and since then the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Wisconsin and Oregon have joined them. The trend is likely to continue as bills pop up in state legislatures across the nation.

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. These bills are wise to also spell out steps for after an animal has been removed to ensure that emergency care is provided and pets are returned to their owners appropriately. 

While not all states allow citizens to rescue pets in hot cars, there is also a growing number that grant protections for first responders needing to do so. First responders are authorized to remove animals in peril in Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington. View this list of hot car laws by state for more information. If you're interested in working towards establishing greater protection for dogs in hot cars in your state, connect with your HSUS state director


dog in a red car
Pets in Hot Cars - Current landscape (Jan 2020)