What to Do If You See a Pet in a Locked Car

pets locked in cars
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The Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals both work diligently to spread awareness about the dangers of leaving a pet locked in a car.

However, many pet owners continue to make the same mistakes, threatening the lives of their animals to the point of death. In many states, this is considered to be animal abuse and can lead to a punishable fine or misdemeanor.

The Dangers of Leaving a Pet in a Locked Car

If you have a pet, it is important to be aware of what can happen to your pet if they overheat. Furthermore, it is important to know how to save the life of a pet left unattended in a confined vehicle. For example, when to call animal control and when you should forcibly enter a vehicle.

Leaving an animal confined and unattended in a hot car is considered animal cruelty. In fact, there are laws in 28 states that prohibit leaving an animal locked in a car under life-threatening conditions. While these conditions vary by state, they may include:

  • Extreme hot and cold temperatures.
  • Lack of air ventilation.
  • Failure to provide food or water.

Even on a cooler day, a vehicle’s temperature is typically 40 degrees higher than it is outside. Leaving an animal in a vehicle under these conditions can cause serious long-term damage to their organs and may lead to a hot car death. Keeping the windows cracked slightly does little to alleviate the car’s temperature. When an animal is left in the heat without proper ventilation, their blood pressure drops significantly, the heart works harder to provide blood supply and the brain begins to swell due to the formation of blood clots.

An animal can become immediately at risk of irreversible brain damage, seizures, coma and death. This is due to a heat stroke, which can occur in as little as 10 minutes. If you ever pass by a vehicle with a pet left unattended it is essential that you take the following precautions to secure the animal’s life.

Gather Information

It is important to gather pertinent information about the vehicle. Make sure to write down the vehicle’s make, model and license plate number to report the vehicle’s owner to the police. You may even take a photo of the vehicle’s license plate and the animal confined in the vehicle. Depending on your state, the owner may receive a minor traffic violation, a misdemeanor penalty or a felony offense for animal abuse. In New Hampshire, a resident may face a felony if he or she receives a second conviction for leaving a pet unattended and confined in his or her vehicle.

Notify Others

If you are nearby any businesses, quickly notify a manager or security guard of the animal suffering. Request that they make an announcement on an intercom to help you locate the vehicle’s owner. Make sure that you act as quickly as possible. You don’t know how long the animal has been in the vehicle and it can take minutes for the animal to experience brain damage. Someone may also be able to assist you in calling for help while you try to locate the owner.

Call for Help

If you cannot locate the vehicle’s owner in a timely manner, the Humane Society recommends that you call animal control before calling law enforcement. If animal control cannot make it in time, dial 911 and wait by the vehicle for help to arrive. In some states, it is recommended to call the non-emergency law enforcement number.

Monitor the Animal

In the midst of trying to find help, it is pertinent that you also monitor the animal suffering closely. While it is always important to use your best judgement, there are several warning signs that may will help you determine whether it is time to rescue the dog yourself. Many dogs die in hot cars every year due to heat strokes. You can help avoid a tragedy by being aware of these dangerous warning signs:

  • Excessive panting and/or drooling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Deep red or purple tongue

If you notice any of these signs while monitoring the vehicle, it may be time to take matters into your own hands.


After all safety measures have been taken, your only option may be to rescue the distressed animal yourself to avoid a hot car death. This may mean breaking a window and damaging a vehicle that is not yours. You may be wondering if this is legal and whether you will be charged with forcibly entering a vehicle. While laws vary by state, your laws may provide you with civil immunity if the animal’s life is in danger. There are 12 states, including Florida and Arizona that allow any person to rescue an endangered animal from a confined vehicle.

However, most of them require that you first complete certain steps, like ensuring that the vehicle is locked and calling 911. Other states limit rescue missions to law enforcement, animal control, firefighters and first responders to rescue dogs and other animals from dangerous matters like these. On the other hand, Indiana requires you to pay half of the vehicle’s damages. Your state’s laws may also require you to leave a note for the owner stating that the animal is safe and to wait for officer officials to arrive. Make sure you are well aware of your state’s laws before making any decisions. You may find saving the life of a defenseless animal to be worth the vehicle’s damages.

Help the Pet

If you have decided to rescue the pet yourself, there a few things you can do to gradually lower their temperature and prevent a heat stroke. These steps include:

  • Sprinkling cold water on the pet without soaking them
  • Wetting the animal’s ear flaps and paws with cool water
  • Fanning the animal’s wet areas
  • Placing cool, wet towels over the neck, armpits and in the groin area
  • Giving the pet cool water without forcing them to drink it

If the pet seems to be unresponsive, the Humane Society highly recommends taking the pet to a nearby animal hospital or veterinarian office to prevent any serious injuries to the pet’s organs.

Educate Pet Owners

The Humane Society and ASPCA have educational flyers on the dangers of leaving a pet confined in hot cars. You can try to help avoid these tragedies from occurring by passing out these flyers and asking business owners to post them in their stores. The most effective locations to hand out these flyers are pet stores, veterinarian offices, pet grooming salons and at your local dog park. If your state does not have any effective laws prohibiting leaving pets unattended in a locked car, attempt to make a change by contacting your local representatives and lobby for a town hall meeting.